“What does logic have to do with theology?” That was the question asked to me by a friend as we were leaving her house for dinner.
It is a good question, and I would expect nothing less from the friend who had asked it. Its not just a question those outside of Christianity would have. I would expect only a few people could provide a well-reasoned answer in any given congregation on a Sunday morning. So, let me attempt a brief reply. I know the best way to tackle any problem is to understand what you are addressing clearly. The first step is to define terms (sometimes just doing that can give you an answer). Let’s hear what the Oxford Dictionary has to say:
Logic: “Reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity.”
Theology: “The study of the nature of God and religious belief.”
I understand there are many ways to tie those two together, but I simply see logic and theology coming together as right thinking applied to life’s biggest questions. I argue asking what logic has to do with theology carries a great assumption. I would ask if logic is simply right thinking, then why doesn’t it correspond to theology? Asking why it does implies theology is outside the bounds of good thinking or issues of faith are beyond the scope of validation.
Sadly, that is the assumption of many. No one would argue (I hope not!) that we do not use the laws of logic in all areas of our life and thinking. What are the laws of logic? We can quickly look at the three foundational laws of logic. Kenneth Samples sums up the foundational laws in his book World of Difference as such:
1.The Law of Non-contradiction: Nothing can be and not be in the same respect at the same time.
2.The Law of Excluded Middle: Something either is or it is not.
3.The Law of Identity: A thing (person, place, event) is what it is.
We cannot even begin to reason properly about anything without these three laws being universal. You do not have to know these rules to use them; you use them no matter what. In other words, in all of our thinking, these three laws are assumed to be true, they are not created. We simply could not make sense of reality if we ignored these fundamental laws of logic. It is when we try to ignore these laws that we encounter false beliefs and poor thinking which can have harmful effects. If these laws were ignored, could you even give someone directions? Could we learn anything? Could we be sure of anything? Of course not. It is because of these laws that we can give someone directions and (if followed) be confident they will arrive at the right destination. We can teach someone mathematics (because 2+2 = 4 and not 5), how to read and write (because “a” in our alphabet is always “a”), and we can be sure of many things in this world (I am Chris, who lives in Colorado, and as I write this it is Monday).
Therefore, the laws of logic apply to matters of theology as they do to everything because whenever we think, we use logic. We can examine claims of religions, we learn, reason and discern what is true and what is not. The laws of logic do not change depending on what one is studying, doing or thinking. They are not subjective, but objective. The ignoring of logic by people both inside and outside the church is one reason why we have lost the ability to talk about theology in the public square and amongst our friends. I would also argue why many Christians have become ineffective evangelist. Just based on the three fundamental laws of logic, all religions cannot be right. They can all be false or one could be true, but they cannot all be true.
Most people believe that Jesus can be true for the Christian, false for the Buddhist, and yet both religions are true. There is a much deeper dive that has to occur (which throughout this blog will happen), and that is understanding what these religions claim to believe. I would predict that most people who hold a relativist view of religions do not correctly understand the claims to truth each religion makes. The claims of each religion contradict all others. While there may exist similarities on the surface among religions, the fundamentals are strikingly different. Christianity contradicts Islam, Islam contradicts Judaism, Buddhism contradicts Christianity, Hinduism contradicts Islam, and so on. Either a personal god created the universe or not. There is either one god, multiple gods, or no god(s). Either we continue in an afterlife upon death, or we do not. Either salvation is earned or it is received by grace. These are not “true for you” claims, which is the go-to statement for those who refuse to seriously engage matters of faith intellectually.
Each religion or worldview describes and prescribes; describes reality and prescribes how we are to interact with, think about, and act upon such reality. Yes, the polite sentiment in our culture today is just to say everyone is right. And yes, everyone has a worldview (atheism, agnosticism, and pluralism are all worldviews). But nice sentiment doesn’t trump logic and politeness doesn’t change what is true. I have had some people tell me “It doesn’t matter because we can’t know who is right, so why bother.” My reply is how did you come to that conclusion? Because there are thousands of years of theologians from each and every religion that would wholeheartedly disagree. We can know religious truth just as we are aware of any other truth. We can examine and test worldviews, using logic and other tools, and we can see which one best explains reality. For example, Kenneth Samples offers nine points of logical examination for any worldview. Much more details can be found in his book World of Difference or here at Reasons.org. The nine tests are:
- Coherence Test: Is a particular worldview logically consistent?
- Mean Test: Is the worldview balanced between complexity and simplicity?
- Explanatory Power and Scope Test: How well does a worldview explain reality (power), and how complete is the evidence in support of the view (scope)?
- Correspondence Test: Does a particular worldview correspond with well-established, empirical facts?
- Verification Test: Can the central truth claims of the worldview be verified or falsified?
- Pragmatic Test: Does the worldview promote practical and workable consequences?
- Existential Test: Does the worldview address the internal needs of humanity?
- Competition Test: Can a worldview successfully compete in the marketplace of ideas?
- Predictive Test: Can a worldview successfully anticipate future discoveries?
If there is something that has trumped logic in issues of religion it is intellectual apathy in our culture. Steve Lemke, Provost and Professor of Theology and Ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees when he says “As a philosophically-trained theologian, it causes me considerable chagrin to see some of the most basic errors in logic committed over and over again in theological discourse.”
I should note here that Christianity stands out from all other religions concerning its view of logic and its ability to provide satisfying answers to the above nine questions. The irony of this is that most critics of Christianity claim to value the mind, reason, and logic yet are quick to disregard the one religion that highly values such things and can properly account for why logic even exists! Christianity never asks for us to check our brains at the door and instead invites us to love God with “…all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” as Jesus says in Matthew 22:37. Consider the beginning of John’s Gospel which says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The original Greek uses Logos for “Word” and John later in verse 14 identifies the Logos as Jesus. Christian philosopher (and recently names one of the top 50 most influential living philosophers) William Lane Craig provides this commentary:
“Rather I’d say that the laws of logic are a description of the functioning of God’s mind. The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Logos (word, reason), and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God” (John 1.1). God is the supremely logical thinker, and the laws of logic are a reflection of His mind, just as the moral law is a reflection of His character.”
Here is why all this matters. Jesus made this claim about himself:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV
Every truth claim is exclusive; it is inescapable. Truth, by definition is exclusive; for something to be true, other things must be false. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to salvation with God, then other ways are false. If Jesus, as part of the triune God, was resurrected, then any other religion or worldview that denies it cannot be true. Ultimately, if Christ did rise from the dead, said what He said, then He is worthy of our trust and we must respond to His invitation when he says, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19).
Choosing a religion is not about preference; it is about seeking the truth. Logic assists us in that seeking as we can reasonably discern what is real and what is not, or what is true and what is false. Adopting an illogical and arbitrary “truth is whatever works for you” mentality exclusively for religious matters has no grounding and requires you to shut your brain off. The consequences of any one religion being true are far too great to adopt such an approach.
I think when someone asks what does logic have to do with theology, the real issue they may be asking is what does faith have to do with reason? A response to that is addressed here.
For further reading and resources:
Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to The Worldview Test (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2007)
Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 11th ed. (Wadsworth Learning, Boston, MA 2012)
Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2017)
Logic and Religion, Stand to Reason Blog, https://www.str.org/blog/logic-religion#.WHRazqOZN-U
God, Evil, and the Rules of Logic, http://www.reasonablefaith.org, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-evil-and-the-rules-of-logic