Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God? Part I: Examining the Presuppositionalist Viewpoint
The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist world view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes.
In the present paper I will examine statements made by presuppositionalists on behalf of their claim that logic somehow presupposes the existence of the Christian god, and in a follow-up entry (Part II) I will provide several key reasons why logic does not and cannot presuppose any gods (Christian or otherwise) or have any fundamental association with the mystical teachings of any religion (including Christianity).
Obviously presuppositionalists think that logic has some important relationship to the Christian god. But getting a clear understanding of just what this relationship is supposed to be, is not very easy. First of all, it is noteworthy to point out that, while Christians claim that everything which exists other than their god was created by their god, presuppositionalists typically resist saying that their god created logic. This is probably because such a position would be too overtly subjective for PR purposes, and too problematic to defend. But in spite of such reservations, they are anxious to associate logic fundamentally with their god, as if logic could not exist unless their god also exists. Consider the following statement, again from Greg Bahnsen:
We are not saying God created the laws of logic by His volitional self-determination. Were this so, then He could alter or discard them as well... Rather, we are saying that the laws of logic reflect His nature, the way He is in Himself. They are, therefore, eternal expressions of the unchanging character of God (Numb. 23:19; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). God’s unchanging character is just that, unchanging. Therefore the laws of logic (which reflect that character) are unchanging and unchangeable, in that God “cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). (Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen, p. 210)
Now it seems to me that anyone can imagine an invisible magic being, claim that its nature does not change, and insist that the laws of logic “reflect” its unchanging nature. I could, for example, fantasize that the laws of logic reflect the nature of Blarko the Wonderbeing, whose nature is "unchanging and unchangeable." Of course, this would be mere fantasy at this point, completely baseless, and utterly at odds with reality. And while it seems that presuppositionalists provide essentially nothing better than this, they insist that their god is not imaginary and that logic in fact requires (“demands” as one apologist puts it) the existence of an “immaterial” being which could only be the Christian god. Unfortunately, however, the apologists have given no substantial reason to suppose that their god is something other than a fantasy. Instead of TAG – i.e., the “transcendental argument for the existence of God” – apologists have in fact served up a rendition of FAG - i.e., the fantastical assertion of the existence of God. For in the final analysis, it is fundamental to Christianity that the distinction between reality and imagination be blurred, and if you scratch the chest-pounding surface of presuppositionalism, you’ll find that there is ultimately no argument here to begin with.
But make no mistake about it, presuppositionalists want us to take their claim that the laws of logic reflect their god’s nature seriously, and to accept it as truth. Yet it remains unclear what exactly this claim is supposed to mean, let alone why anyone should believe it. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find this claim in the bible itself, which according to Christianity is supposed to be the Christian god’s own self-revelation to man. If one does not learn that the laws of logic reflect the Christian god’s nature from the bible, how would one discover this? Or is it something one discovers in the first place, or is it something that apologists have stipulated as a core element in their debating strategy (such as FAG)? After examining the matter, it seems to me that the apologists have attempted to shoplift logic expressly for apologetic purposes, in spite of the fact that their god is really only imaginary and the actual basis of logic points unmistakably to non-Christian fundamentals (as I will show in my follow-up entry).
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s take a closer look at what presuppositionalists say about the relationship between logic and their god.
Bahnsen tells us that
One’s use of and account of logic is [sic] not something religiously neutral, but indicates [sic] something about one’s fundamental view of reality. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 236.)
But with each iteration of this position, it seems to twist out of shape, making it all the more difficult to pin down exactly what this intimate relationship the Christian god allegedly has with logic.
For instance, consider the following statement which Bahnsen quotes from Van Til:
the Christian views logic as a reflection of God’s own thinking, rather than as laws or principles that are “higher” than God or that exist “in independence of God and man.” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 236; quoting Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 11.)
In the present case, however, by characterizing logic as a “reflection” of someone’s actual thinking, presuppositionalism seems to reverse the proper relationship between logic and thought. Generally speaking, thinking is considered to require a standard to guide its path of identifications and inferences. When someone says that an individual’s thinking is logical on a given matter, he is essentially saying that it conforms to certain criteria which obtain independent of that thinking. Christians themselves imply agreement with this understanding of what it is to be logical, when they apply the concept ‘logical’ to any particular individual human being’s thinking. If a certain apologist’s argument is said by his peers to be logical, they essentially mean that the thinking behind it complies with logical norms.
Of course, an individual human being’s thinking is not what presuppositionalists have in mind when they intimate that logic reflects the actual thinking of a particular personality. While the reversal here remains unexplained, the thinking which they have in mind belongs to a being which their religion describes as omniscient and infallible. But this only complicates things further: an omniscient and infallible being wouldn’t need to make any inferences. Since it would presumably already know everything in the first place, how could it make sense to say it thinks? The task of thinking is to integrate facts and details one learns from reality in order to make specific identifications, assessments, evaluations, judgments, etc. Such a task seems to presuppose that its products are something which yet need to be achieved. Indeed, why would an omniscient and infallible being think, and what would it think about? For what purpose would it think? Such questions seem not to be considered by presuppositionalists who want to defend the view that logic presupposes the Christian god.
Returning to the claim that logic “reflects” the Christian god’s nature, this suggests that logic would be co-eternal with said god, since its nature is said to be eternally unchanging, and the laws of logic “are, therefore, eternal expressions of the unchanging character of God.” What, then, are we to make of the following statement by James J. Tyne, a student with Bahnsen Theological Seminary and contributor to The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen, Tyne writes emphatically:
There is nothing co-eternal with God or bigger than God; there are no over-arching realities, such as creaturely concepts of time, space, existence, logic, or possibility, alongside or supporting God or against which He could be measured. He transcends everything other than Himself.( “Putting Contexts in Their Place: God’s Transcendence in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book One,” The Standard Bearer, ed. S. M. Schlissel, p. 371)
So a controversy seems to be gnawing away within presuppositionalism here: is logic an “eternal expression” of the Christian god’s nature, or is it the case that “there is nothing co-eternal with God”? Both positions seem to cancel each other out.
One thing that all presuppositionalists seem to agree on, is that the Christian god is somehow “above” logic. For instance, in a paper titled Logic Proves the Existence of God: Part II, apologist Peter Pike insists that something “must be viewed in a hierarchical sense as being above logic” because “logic demands this in order for it to be valid,” and since “logic itself demands the existence of” this something that is “above logic,” this something “can only be described as ‘God’." Apparently what is being affirmed here is not only that the Christian god’s existence is required for logic to be valid, but also that the Christian god itself is not bound to logical norms in its own choices and actions. This latter point seems to be what results from the view that the Christian god is “above logic.” Pike himself seems to resist this implication. For instance, he insists that whatever it is which
logic demands… in order for it to be valid… [it] will behave in a manner that is logical, because we have seen how rigid and steadfast logic is. Whatever causes logic must be rigid and steadfast likewise, or else it would not cause logic to behave in that manner.
Moreover, my interpretation that being “above logic” suggests that the Christian god is not bound to logical norms in its own choices and actions is supported by a statement by Van Til, who writes that:
there is ‘no impersonal law of logic’ that dictates to God what He can or cannot say: the logical constraints of God’s thinking are the constraints of His own personal nature, which man is to emulate. Man’s logical reasoning, then, must always be pursued as a servant, subordinating his thoughts to the thinking of his Lord. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 236; quoting The Defense of the Faith, 1st ed., p. 247.)
Furthermore, the very notion that “the logical constraints of God’s thinking are the constraints of His own personal nature” seems rather baffling, if not completely vacuous. Since the “constraints” in question here are said to be the Christian god’s nature, those constraints would be metaphysical constraints which obtain independently of the Christian god’s choices, actions and thinking. In fact, if the Christian god is said to be able to choose, act and think, its nature would be a precondition of these performances, and therefore could not be a result or product of any of them. So to call the constraints of its nature “logical” is inappropriate, for it commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. Since one’s nature is not the result of his own conscious intentions, to call it “logical” fails to recognize that the genetic roots of the concept ‘logical’ have no part in what is being called “logical.” The problems seem to just get worse the more we probe presuppositionalism’s view of logic. But we’re not through yet.
Since Van Til invokes the “constraints” of the Christian god’s “nature,” let us ask: What exactly are those “constraints”? How do they vouchsafe the claim that its thinking is logical? A critical examination of the bible does not suggest that the god(s) it describes is (are) at all logical. But this should not surprise us, since logic has a teleological aspect to it, in that its application is always goal-oriented: one thinks or acts logically in the interest of achieving some end. But what goals could the Christian god logically be said to pursue? Could the “constraints” of the Christian god’s nature incline its choices and actions to comply with logical norms? It seems not. The Christian god is supposed to be eternal, immortal, impervious to harm, completely invincible. It does not face the fundamental alternative which biological organisms (of which man is a species) face. Given these points, the Christian god would have no objective basis for pursuing any goals or striving to achieve any aim. So what “constraints” of the Christian god’s nature compel us to suppose its thinking is at all logical? Blank out.
Moreover, isn’t man supposed according to Christianity to have been created in the image of this god? Would the Christian then say that “the logical constraints of [man’s] thinking are the constraints of [man’s] own personal nature”? I somehow doubt it. We’re always being told by Christians how depraved man is, how prone he is to deceiving and being deceived, how at odds he is with “the Truth.” This malady is, according to Christianity, not simply a result of an individual’s incidental choices and actions, but an inherent part of the nature with which he was born. According to this view, man is (apparently in spite of being created by an allegedly morally perfect creator in its own image) “inherently depraved”. And in spite of allegedly having been created by a perfect creator, it is because of this flaw with which he was created that man’s thinking is not automatically logical, as his creator’s thinking allegedly is. Man possesses a mere finite nature, a nature which is constrained to certain specifics with which he was, according to the Christian view, originally created. But apparently even this is not enough to constrain his thinking to logical norms. How much more would the thinking of a being whose nature is said to be infinite and unencumbered with creative limits, be “constrained” to some set of criteria (such as logic) which man (being inherently depraved) can comprehend? Questions such as these, which arise given Christianity’s stipulation that man is finite, inherently depraved and yet “created in the image” of the Christian god, apparently couldn’t be further from the presuppositionalist’s considerations.
Now in regard to what Van Til does affirm in the above quote, he seems to miss an important point. The question is not whether or not logic “dictates” or compels a thinker to think logically. Thinking itself is a volitional activity, and any given thinker chooses whether or not to adhere to logic as a norm. So the question for the Christian in this respect is whether or not he thinks his god chooses to think logically, or if logic is said to mirror its thinking regardless of what may think. Van Til’s statement suggests that logic is not a norm to which the Christian god volitionally conforms its thinking, as man should his own thinking. To do so would presume that logic is a norm independent of the Christian god’s actual thinking, just as it is in the case of man’s thinking. And this would not bode well for the relationship which presuppositionalists want to claim between their god and the nature of logic.
Quizzically, Van Til essentially says that “God’s thinking” conforms to “His own personal nature,” but this is not at all the same thing as saying that its thinking is logical, especially if the Christian god’s nature is supposed to be “infinite,” which would make its nature very broad indeed. If it is the case that man’s thinking can be both illogical and still be compatible with his nature as a finite being (and thus reflect the finitude of his nature), then presuppositionalists need to offer a better reason to suppose their god’s actual thinking is logical. In fact, what presuppositionalists offer in this regard seems to be a rather empty statement. A man’s thoughts could be said to conform to “his own personal nature,” regardless of whether or not they are logical. That one’s thoughts are in line with “the constraints of his own personal nature” in no way informs us whether or not those thoughts conform to the standards of logic. Since conformity to one’s own nature does not guarantee logical thinking in the case of finite beings, why suppose that conformity to one’s own nature in the case of an infinite being would guarantee logical thinking? Again, we have another blank-out here.
It would be helpful if the presuppositionalist could clarify whether or not his god has a choice in the matter of its thinking being logical. As I pointed out above, a human thinker must choose to govern his thinking according to logical norms; his thinking is not automatically logical, he has a choice in the matter. But statements by presuppositionalists imply that their god’s thinking is automatically logical, which could only suggest that it has no choice in the matter. Such a position could only trivialize the Christian god’s relationship to logic, making it the inevitable outcome of an impersonal set of causes. But this is precisely what presuppositionalists have been at pains to claim is not the case, and yet certain stipulations of theirs seem to require this assessment.
Van Til also makes the curious statement that “man is to emulate” this “personal nature” which he attributes to his god. The New Testament makes a similar injunction in Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Did Van Til think that he successfully did this? His god is described as being omniscient, omnipotent, infallible, infinite, able to manipulate facts (cf. Van Til, who claims: “God may at any time take one fact and set it into a new relation to created law” [The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 27]), able to forgive sins at will, etc. But Christians are constantly reminding us of the profound fundamental differences between man’s nature (he is finite, fallible, non-omniscient, “totally depraved,” etc.) and the nature they ascribe to their god. All this suggests that Christianity holds man to an unrealistic standard which fundamentally contradicts his nature (since, as we are repeatedly told, man is “not God”). Why not simply recognize that we are human beings, and govern our worldview according to this fact? And why not simply recognize that the purpose of logic is to guide the thinking process of specifically non-omniscient, fallible minds? Should man deny the finitude, fallibility and non-omniscience of his mind, and in its place pretend that he thinks the thoughts of an invisible magic being rather than own thoughts? How far would that get anyone?
Part of the problem with the presuppositional account of logic thus far, is its tendency to logic to a descriptive artifice rather than a normative set of cognitive guidelines. On a rational understanding, logic is normative in that it identifies the proper conceptual hierarchy among one’s identifications and integrations as a standard to which one should strive to conform his thinking (if in fact he wants his thinking to have logical integrity). Presuppositionalist John Frame seems to understand this to some degree, but considers this quality of logic itself as an indicator of the Christian god’s reality. Frame writes:
…the power of logic is normative and ethical. It tells us what we ought to confess as a conclusion, granting our confession of premises. And if it is ethical, it is covenantal; like moral values, it rests on the dependable word of a trustworthy person, a Lord, our absolute divine personality. Thus, when unbelievers use logic to raise objections against Christianity, they are using something which, manipulate it how they may, points in the opposite direction. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 104)
Moreover, if the Christian god has no choice in the matter of whether or not its thinking is logical (as Van Til’s statement above suggests), then the ethical parameters which Frame grants to logic all the more miss the point. For ethical norms are only possible where there is choice in a given matter. If one has no choice in certain context, then there’s no use for a code of values whose purpose is to guide choices.
Presuppositionalism does seek to overcome its tendency to treat logic as simply descriptively by stating that man should “think God’s thoughts after Him,” which is a most baffling notion. An honest thinker thinks his own thoughts, not someone else’s. An honest man recognizes that he cannot, for instance, substitute someone else’s inferences and judgments in place of his own, and still call any mental operation he performs “thinking.” It would be fantasy instead of thinking at that point. Consider: how would someone know what a god thinks about anything? Of course, he could pretend, and I suspect that this is what believers making such preposterous claims are really doing. But of course they will not admit this. They really want to prop up the pretense that they truly are thinking their god’s thoughts after it. But to do this, they would have to know what those thoughts are, and in order to know what those thoughts are, he would have to be equipped with some cognitive ability by which he could access the thoughts of his god. What is this apparatus by which he claims to do this, how does it work, and how does he ensure (without thinking his own thoughts!) that it’s really working properly? Why not simply recognize that each of us thinks his own thoughts, and be willing to learn when mistakes are discovered? One would need an entire epistemology just to gain awareness of what his “God” thinks, but that would be self-defeating, given the ideal that is being endorsed here, since epistemology guides how one governs his own thinking.
Now apologists might say, in response to my points above, that there is in fact an argument which seals the case on behalf of the presuppositionalist’s claim that logic presupposes the existence of the Christian god. For instance, he might point to Michael Butler’s clarification of how “transcendental arguments” work on behalf of such claims:
Transcendental arguments attempt to discover the preconditions of human experience. They do so by taking some aspect of human experience and investigating what must be true in order for that experience to be possible. Transcendental arguments typically have the following form. For x (some aspect of human experience) to be the case, y must also be the case since y is the precondition of x. Since x is the case, y is the case. ( “The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence,” The Standard Bearer, p. 79)
For causality to be possible, God has to exist since the existence of God is the precondition of causality. Since there is causality, God exists. A corollary of this is that whenever non-believers employ the concept of causation, they are borrowing from the Christian worldview since only on a Christian worldview does causation make sense. (Ibid.)
Premise 1: For logic to be the case, the Christian god must also be the case for the Christian god is the precondition of logic.
Premise 2: Logic is the case.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Christian god is the case.
And notice how easily Butler’s proposed scheme lends itself to “establishing” positions which no one takes seriously:
Premise 1: For logic to be the case, Blarko the Wonderbeing must also be the case for Blarko the Wonderbeing is the precondition of logic.
Premise 2: Logic is the case.
Conclusion: Therefore, Blarko the Wonderbeing is the case.
So in spite of all this mess, could there still be reasons why logic might presuppose the existence of the Christian god? In Part II, I will lay out some important reasons why logic could not presuppose the Christian god, and in so doing I will raise several objections to the presuppositional thesis which the apologetic literature unfortunately does not anticipate, let alone address.
by Dawson Bethrick