Validity, the Mind of God and Confessional Christianity
September 19, 2016
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:
All who call on Jesus are justified before GodAll who are justified before God will be glorifiedTherefore, all who call on Jesus will be glorified
Argument 2All pink flamingoes are paisley on the insideAll things paisley on the inside are socksTherefore, 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 BAll B are CTherefore, 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.