Results tagged “logic” from Reformation21 Blog

A while back I wrote a post on the parasitic nature of absurdity. Absurdity, as a concept, is only meaningful when set against a backdrop of rationality. Whenever we conclude something is absurd, however, we are not only judging it to be strongly irrational in some respect, and are thus working with a prior concept of rationality, but we mean to be drawing a rational conclusion in a rational way. Strangely enough, absurdity is a rational concept and concluding something is absurd is a rational judgment if it is at all a meaningful one.

This strongly suggests the priority of the rational over the absurd, which is an apologetically useful observation since a rational world is exactly what we would expect if Christianity were true and rather difficult to explain if atheism were true--so difficult, in fact, that many thoughtful atheists have concluded the world must be absurd all the way down. On that view, reason and meaning are ill-fitting concepts we rudely force on reality. That, at least, is the only rational conclusion they are able to draw from their naturalistic premises.

Validity

The apology from reason or, more narrowly, logical validity is distinct from an apology from truth. Among the first lessons in any course on logic is that logical validity and truth (or soundness) are not the same. Truth, classically considered, has to do with a claim's correspondence to some external state of affairs while validity has to do only with a certain kind of relationship between two or more claims and nothing directly to do with whether those claims are true or not.

As far as logical validity is concerned, there is no difference between these two arguments:

Argument 1 

All who call on Jesus are justified before God 
All who are justified before God will be glorified 
Therefore, all who call on Jesus will be glorified

Argument 2 

All pink flamingoes are paisley on the inside 
All things paisley on the inside are socks 
Therefore, all pink flamingoes are socks

Though the second argument is bizarre and clearly not true, both arguments are valid. Not only that, they are actually identical, being instances of an argument form known as "Barbara" to logic geeks. Barbara arguments run like this:

All A are B 
All B are C 
Therefore, all A are C

It does not matter what terms we substitute for A, B, and C (so long as they make up meaningful claims), the conclusion will always, without fail, necessarily follow. That's what it means for an argument to be valid.

But why should it be that some claims necessarily follow from other claims? Or, to put a pious point on it, how can we be so certain that whatever "by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture" also belongs to "the whole counsel of God's word concerning all things necessary" for his glory and our salvation (WCF 1.6)?

The Mind of God

Logicians have advanced various non-theological accounts of validity. While many of these are intriguing, none of them completely satisfy. This is in large part because the issue is ultimately theological: logical validity is a reflection in creation of God's rational perfection. Logic is not just a figment of our imagination or an imposition of our brains on nature or a useful contrivance of on our minds; logic belongs to the fabric of creation. We are not just imagining this, but discerning something actual about the world and about ourselves as creatures in the world. Creation has a rational character because its Creator is a rational being.

But the principles of logic and forms of validity do not, as some have over concluded, belong to very structure of God's mind. Being infinite, God knows all things in a single, simple, undivided, and eternal act of knowing. His mind does not trade in propositions or arrive at knowledge (or understanding) or discover new insights through any sort of process. Though he condescends to reason things out with us, he is not in himself discursive thinker.

Logical validity, however, just is a particular sort of relationship between propositions within a structured discursive process of reasoning--this is why we say things like "it follows that" when we draw conclusions--and why conclusions are called "conclusions." A valid argument is one that works, with the force of necessity, within such a discursive process--a process that appears to be inescapable for finite rational creatures but alien to our infinite Creator.

Confessional Christianity

Logic does not disclose the secret inner workings of the divine mind but is rather a reflection of the perfect rationality of God in finite things. As light is refracted into the colorful spectrum of a rainbow as it passes through a prism so divine reason is refracted into the forms of logical validity (among other expressions of rationality) as it passes, if you will, into the created realm. This "passing" of divine reason through the prism of finitude is not the result of a natural emanation from God but belongs to a willful act of general revelation intentional accommodated to our finite capacities.

Logic, therefore, is neither the operating system of the divine mind nor some arbitrary contrivance by God for this world. It is rather an aspect of the rationality of a finite world that displays (as ectype) the infinite Creator's perfect rationality (the archetype). When we deduce what must follow from what has been revealed, therefore, we have good reason to be confident in what we have concluded and to confess it humbly, knowing that however much progress we make we continue to reason and think and know as finite creatures before an infinite and holy God.

Zero Sum Game

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A recent blog post by Sammy Rhodes, a minister in the PCA and RUF chaplain, has caused something of a storm. Pitched as an apology by a theological conservative to the LGBTQ community in the wake of the Orlando massacre, it makes interesting reading.

Rhodes is, he says, speaking mainly for himself. That is good. I find a lot of open letter internet apologies are often ways of surreptitiously and piously distancing oneself from one's chosen constituency rather than expressing any kind of solidarity (even in repentance) with it.

There is much to commend. It is good that he is apparently abandoning his habit of telling anti-gay jokes and of quietly using pornography - at least, that seems to be the only fair reading of an apology offered 'mainly for myself.' Most of us, I hope, did not need Orlando to help us stop doing those things. I would suggest it is also appropriate to confess such things to his congregation, elders, and presbytery too. If he is really speaking mainly for himself, that is.

The problems with the post, though, run deep. An implicit and simplistic connection between the massacre and Christian belief is assumed. There is a series of false dichotomies. Clich├ęs abound. 'Love' and 'care' are not defined and seem little more than sentimental constructs. 'Injustice' and 'inequality' are trotted out without qualification or content. Like poverty, everybody is against such things. But there is little consensus today on what 'injustice' and 'inequality' mean and thus to use them in this way is mere incantatory rhetoric.

Rhodes' claim about the lack of Christian defense of the LGBTQ community compared to concern about 'defending chicken sandwiches,' 'speaking out more about cakes' and 'caring more about bathrooms' is problematic in many ways. He leaves undefined, in both quality and degree, what he believes would constitute an appropriate defense of the LGBTQ community. This renders his argument to be a non-argument, a mere appeal to aesthetics and sentiment. Taste and emotions carry the day. And yet the nature of what Rhodes believes this appropriate defense should look like is surely critical to what he is trying to say. There is a gaping, yet very suggestive, hole right at the very center of his complaint.

Further, he chooses words which trivialize the issues of personal and religious liberty which these other cases embody and he thereby ignores the serious issues of privacy, parental rights and safety which they involve. Is a bloody massacre worse than someone losing their livelihood for their religious beliefs? Yes, of course. I doubt that anybody would argue that point. But this is rhetoric, not argument. In fact, Rhodes is using the Orlando massacre to belittle these other matters. Logically and ethically unnecessary but also very revealing.

In conclusion, two things come to mind. First, Rhodes does not really give the LGBTQs what they actually want. Today, sexuality is a major component of personal identity and as such is driven by the ethics of personal authenticity, thus requiring social recognition. This means that society at large has to recognize the complete legitimacy of that identity. Merely to come close to this but yet to fail to do so completely (as I read Rhodes doing) is thus still to engage in oppression and to facilitate the kind of culture which the LGBTQ lobby (and it would seem Rhodes himself) sees as leading to such as the Orlando killings. Rhodes does not explicitly repent for the conservative Christian denial of the legitimacy of the paradigm of identity underlying LGBTQism. He therefore remains as guilty as the rest of us of maintaining an ideology which the LGBTQers regard as oppressive. Strange to tell, he seems remarkably unaware of this. I would suggest that he needs to make a clear choice on that if his apology is to carry the weight he wants with the LGBTQ community.

Second, I suspect this piece by Rhodes is not so much an apology intended for the LGBTQ community as it is a sermon addressed to his own Christian constituency. That is OK - but if you are going to preach, then do it directly, clarify your terms, offer arguments rather than aesthetics, and do not engage in zero sum games that unnecessarily trivialize other ethical issues and generate false dichotomies.

In the meantime, we should feel horror at Orlando because human beings have been slaughtered - just as we should feel horror at the slaughter of human beings on the streets of American cities every day of the year.