Critical Thinking Part 2 – The Theology of Argument


Theology of Logic

[NOTE:  Part 1:  Logic & Argument]

Is logic a neutral tool?   Or is logic, the laws of thought, affected by one’s worldview?  This is rather like asking, is the eye a neutral tool?  It is asking the wrong question.  It is not the tool that is colored by our worldview and whether or not we are a believer.  But it is the use of this tool that is colored by our worldview.  Scripture doesn’t tell us that our eyes are evil; but that it is our hearts that are evil.

  • Job 31:1 I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?
  • Psalm 101:3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.
  • Matthew 5:27-29  Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:  But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
  • Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

And so it is with logic.  It is with our use of logic that we either obey God or blaspheme God.  Just as believers and unbelievers share eyes, they also share the same formal laws of thought.  There is no difference between a Christian eye and a non-Christian eye.  And there is no difference between Christian and non-Christian logic with regard to the formal laws of logic.  How the Christian and non-Christian use the formal laws of logic will be guided by their presuppositions.  Logic, contrary to the evidential apologist, provides no neutral ground between the Christian and non-Christian.

But does the life of the unbeliever affect his use of the formal laws of logic?  Of course it does.  Through their intemperate life and sin, perhaps drunkenness and debauchery, they weaken their God-given natural faculties.  Over time the effects of such sin would ruin their natural abilities.  Prolonged drunkenness damages the brain as does syphilis as it progresses.  Perhaps a forensic expert, at one time the top of his field, has over time ruined his mental faculties through drink and whore-mongering.  Should he then be trusted when rendering his opinion?  It is obvious that he cannot.  His thinking process due to sin is no longer reliable.

But the unbeliever’s life also affects his use of logic in another way.  How? By the unbeliever holding the truth of God in unrighteousness. (Rom 1:18) The unbeliever’s continued suppression of the truth of God colors the way he views the world.  And these presuppositions will guide the unbelievers use of logic and lead to known falsehoods.  An example of this can be found in the field of modern textual criticism.  Dr. Bart Ehrman, successor to the late heterodoxical text critic Dr. Bruce Metzger, is an unbeliever.  And so he holds to different presuppositions about the text of scripture than Christians.  Dr. Ehrman believes that over time the text of scripture has been so corrupted that it is impossible to know what any part of it actually may have said in the original.  He provides many such examples in his book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.  It is a book worth reading to see where such unbiblical presuppositions regarding the text of scripture will ultimately lead.  But what is the Christian position?  I quote from the London Baptist Confession of Faith:

1:8 The Old Testament in o Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore p authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. q But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read r and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they s come, that the Word of God dwelling t plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.  —-    (o Rom 3:2; p Isa 8:20; q Act 15:15; r Joh 5:39; s 1Co 14:6,9,11-12,24,28; t Col 3:16)

In the bolded section you will see the historic Christian view of Scripture.  The Christian view presupposes the truth of Scripture about Scripture.  This translates into the belief expressed by Francis Turretin in Question 10 of his 21 Questions on the Holy Scriptures:

Has the original text of the Old and New Testaments come to us pure and uncorrupted? Affirmative, against the Roman Catholics.

V. That the sources are not corrupt is demonstrated by (1) the providence of God, which would not allow (cui repugnat) that the books which he had willed to be written by inspired men for the salvation of the human race, and which he willed to remain to the end of the world so that the waters of salvation could be drawn from them, should be so falsified that they would be useless for that purpose. And since new revelations are not to be expected after God has committed his whole will concerning the doctrine of salvation to the books of Scripture, what could be more derogatory to God, who has promised always to be with his church, than to assert that the books in which this doctrine is preserved have been corrupted so that they cannot be the canon of faith? (2) The faithfulness of the Christian church, and its diligent work in preserving Scripture. Since Christians always watched over it with great care, to preserve the sacred deposit unharmed, it is unbelievable that they either falsified it or allowed anyone else to do so. (3) The religion of the Jews, which looked upon the sacred codices with great faith and concern, to the point of superstition, so that Josephus could say that after the passage of centuries no one dared add to or subtract from or change the books of the Jews, and that among them it was almost instinctive to be prepared to die for Scripture (Against Apion, book 2). Philo in his work on the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, quoted by Eusebius, goes further when he states that, up to his time, during a period of more than two thousand years, no word in the Hebrew law was changed, and that any number of Jews would rather die than allow the law to undergo any change (Preparation for the Gospel 8.2). Indeed, they were overcome with foolish superstition about the sacred codex, so that if a written book of the law touched the ground they proclaimed a fast, and they said that it was to be feared that the universe would revert to primeval chaos–so far were they from allowing fraud with the sacred codices. (4) The care with which the Masoretes not only counted, but recorded in writing, all variations in pointing and writing, not only with regard to verses and words, but to individual letters, so that there could be neither place for, nor suspicion of, forgers, an argument used by Arias Montanus in his biblical preface. (5) The large number of copies. Since the sacred codices are so widely scattered, how could all of them have been corrupted either by the carelessness of copyists or by the malice of falsifiers? “Far be it,” as Augustine says, “from any prudent man to believe that the Jews, however perverse and evil-minded, could have done this with so many and widely scattered copies” (City of God 15.2 [13]). Vives says that this argument should be used against those who “argue that the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New have been falsified and corrupted, so that the truth of the sacred books cannot be found in them.”

Francis Turretin expresses the view of the Reformers who were well acquainted with the textual issues that Drs. Ehrman & Metzger use to make hay.  Unlike the modern textual critic however, the Reformers held to Biblical and not unbelieving Presuppositions.  But it should not be thought that being a Christian is a guarantee that one will inform his view of scripture with scripture.  I quote Daniel Wallace as just such an example of being a Christian and yet holding to unbelieving presuppositions regarding the text of scripture.

Up until the last few years, I would say—and have said—that the practice of textual criticism neither needs nor deserves any theological presuppositions. For example, I am not convinced that the Bible speaks of its own preservation. That doctrine was first introduced in the Westminster Confession, but it is not something that can be found in scripture.  (An Interview with Daniel Wallace)

Evangelicals tend to allow their doctrinal convictions to guide their research. It is better to not the left hand know what the right hand is doing: methodologically, investigate with as objective a mind as possible, allowing the evidence to lead where it will. (Footnote 9.  The Problem of Luke 2:2)

Let us remember, All of us are subject to such failings.

Just as the unbeliever can degrade his thinking through continued sin, so to can the believer upgrade his thinking process by constant study of God’s word and its application to every sphere of life.  The Reformers called this process, Thinking God’s thoughts after him.  The more we allow Scripture and its study guided by the Holy Ghost to guide our thinking, the more such thinking can be trusted.

So what are some good reasons for mastering logic?  In order to fulfill the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28) we must be able to make sense of this world and establish dominion over it.  To make sense of Scripture and learn how to apply it to every sphere of our life requires logical reasoning.  In the study of theology we know that the Bible does not explicitly tell us every theological truth.  But the Bible does provide various statements and God expects us to use logic to discover other truths.  (Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.)  The doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly stated in scripture, but is deduced from the contents of scripture.  (1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.)  To obey God and search the scriptures to find out what is true, we need to use logic.

We also find logic a necessary tool when engaging in apologetics.  It is logic that allows us to do an internal critique of the unbeliever’s worldview.  And during this internal critique logic allows us to show that the unbeliever’s worldview is inconsistent with reality.

The Theology of Argument in the Light of the History of Redemption

What was argumentation like before the fall?  Adam knew things expressible in propositions from the direct verbal revelation he received from God.  Adam also knew things from his investigation of the world.  He was, as we still are, responsible to draw inferences from God’s word.  And, just as we are, was subject to the authority of God’s word.  But could Adam have been mistaken in his reasoning prior to the fall?  That really depends on whether or not we define a mistake in reasoning as solely an ethical problem.  If we did so, we would negate experimentation.  Experimentation is one of the ways by which we learn about our world.  To say Adam never experimented, and thereby arrived at a “mistake”, presupposes that Adam was omniscient.  We can say that prior to the fall Adam could make mistakes in reasoning that were not ethical mistakes in reasoning.  Otherwise we would have to assert that a person sins whenever they use the trial and error method.

It is best to remember that the fall was ethical and not metaphysical.  The laws of thought didn’t change.  There was no loss of information because of the fall.  Paul states this in Rom 1:19-20 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.  Both pre-fall Adam and the unbeliever have reasoning ability.  And both know that God exists.  The difference between pre-fall Adam and the unbeliever is that the unbeliever now uses his reasoning ability to deny the existence of God.  And so the reasoning process of the unbeliever is sinful and his thought process is rebellion against God.  But even the Christian is susceptible to such sinful reasoning and misusing the truth.  When a Christian chooses to reason apart from God’s revelation and engages in autonomous reasoning, the Christian sins.  What is autonomous reasoning?  It is reasoning that sets up anything other than God’s Word as the final authority.  The above mentioned quotes by Daniel Wallace are an example of a Christian who is sinning by engaging in autonomous reasoning.   For Daniel Wallace has set up his reason as the final authority in determining the text of scripture.  The goal in thinking for a Christian is to think God’s thoughts after him and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (1Cor10:4,5)

Some Concerns about Logic

Though God calls us to apply his word to every area of life and to use logical reasoning in doing so, we must never lose sight of the fact that without the Holy Ghost’s help our reasoning will come to nothing.  As Christians we are to master logic and correct reasoning so that we may properly expound God’s word to the unbeliever and provide the unbeliever with a reason for the hope that is in us.  It is through preaching and apologetics that we indict the unbeliever for his unbelief.  It is true that the Holy Ghost uses weak vessels.  But this is no excuse for intellectual laziness and sloppy thinking.  It is sin not to strive to reason aright and therefore we must master logic which, as Isaac Watt’s stated, is the right use of reason in the inquiry after truth.

In mastering logic we will sometimes run into to very different groups of people who are but different sides to the same coin.  On the one side we have those who may end up exulting logic to such a high place that whether by accident or design they elevate logic above the scriptures themselves.  And on the other side we have the pietistic community, many within fundamentalism are such, who see logic and the intellect as being pitted against the Holy Ghost.  While we are to master logic, we must also remember that the use of logic does not dismiss the need for the Holy Ghost.  And those who are suspicious of logic must come to understand that they are confusing intellectualism with correct reasoning.  We must discourage an irrational fear of logic and also must discourage an unseemly exultation of logic.  All of us should hold in mind Proverbs 1:7,  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

As we learn about logic we should not forget that it is scripture that provides us with the warrant for logic and not the other way around.  Scripture and scripture alone must provide the foundation for ALL of our thinking.  The Bible is our ultimate authority in how we think.  Any autonomy in our thought process is sin.  Even though we need the laws of logic to make sense of and even to apply the Bible, their use does not make them more basic than scripture.  This cannot be overemphasized.

The Limitations of Logic

Though logic is required by God for his people and though it is necessary to understand and apply the Bible, logic has limitations.  Or rather, the human understanding of logic has limitations.  Our logic is fallible; God’s logic is not.  Our logic is fallible because we do not always think God’s thoughts after him.  In order to help understand the limitations of logic, look at the following list:

  1. human fallibility
  2. our knowledge of logic is incomplete
  3. logic doesn’t map out all of our thinking
  4. proofs are not enough to learn things or convince other people.  We cannot learn everything that we know from logical proofs alone, nor can we persuade people just by the use of proofs.

We must have a balanced view of logic as we study the subject.  Logic is a valuable tool and yet it is a limited tool.  As long as we remember that, we should always have a right estimation of its use for our lives in applying the Bible to ourselves and our society.

In the next post in this series we will cover Language.

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One response to “Critical Thinking Part 2 – The Theology of Argument

  1. Pingback: Critical Thinking Part 1 – Logic & Argument | The Biblical Thinker·

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