Volume 13, Issue 6: Incarnatus 2
Knowing is Tracing
The incarnation shows us that christ is the logos who holds creation together, not some glassy essences or plastic implications. God Himself speaking through Scripture and nature is the standard of rationality. He should be able to show us more about realistic reasoning than any rationalist latecomer. And since His creation knows nothing of essences or impersonal logical forms, we should look at what it is filled with: an organic world of living things and poetic matter.
Another way of saying this is that instead of traditional "shadow" logic that deals only with the ghostly relations of ideas and excludes the most important parts of reality by its focus on the literal, Christians should think in terms of "organic" logic, a logic that traces the contours of created reality. A simple version of this line of thought is to reason according to the physical patterns of the world, unless the context forces us into another realm. This sort of topographic reasoning can easily account for almost all the most important inferences for which we traditionally assumed Plato's world.
For example, the law of noncontradiction is usually seen as something governing a kind of
necessity that is broader than physical "necessity." But it's that sort of overextension of reason that has brought on all the rationalisms that have stumbled Christian thinking from the rationalisms of Arius and Pelagius to those of Process and Open Theism. An abstract law of noncontradiction quickly jumps its paddock because it thinks it can run free everywhere. It has no respect for metaphor or figuration. But if we don't have a cosmology where an impersonal principle of noncontradiction that claims to rule everything and yet also excludes so much, we could reason more organically, case by case. We need not go beyond physical "necessities" for most purposes.
To see this, consider an example from Sainsbury's Logical Forms. He writes, "the following two claims will help us distinguish two kinds of possibility: physical possibility and logical possibility: (a) It is impossible for an internal combustion engine, used on level roads on the earth's surface, to return 5000 mpg. (b) It is impossible for there to be a car which, at a given time, both has exactly three and exactly four wheels."1
These are supposed to be clear-cut cases of physical vs. logical possibility; (a) is physical and (b) is logical. But why? (b) doesn't require any special shadowy forms to get the contradiction. Physical necessity itself supplies all we need; the created order prohibits a car from having only three and only four wheels at the same time. A door cannot be all blue and all red at the same time. We don't need Aristotle for that.
By extension, the created order can supply us with all sorts of other objective inference rules. As we learn how the created order works, we can avoid all sorts of reasoning traps. When challenged as to their ground, we could even just point to the ground.
This sort of organic thinking also prohibits the most ruthless aspects of shadow logic. We can't just assume that a rule of nature can be applied to every case without examination. Organic logic looks at each discipline, case by case, and asks whether the inference is proper there. Questions of quantifying apply, for example, to most physical questions but not to vast regions of ethics and aesthetics. This would remove the blind automaticity that draws so many to traditional logic, but it leaves room for wisdom.
In the broadest sense, organic logic starts not only with the created order but with the Trinity. We should have instinctively known there was something wrong with traditional logic when it even hinted that there was something suspect about the Trinity and Incarnation. Starting from the Trinity we work from within to figure out the features and limits of our notions of contradiction and implication.
In this context, we would very quickly see that logic is a branch of ethics. Even a Sainsbury reminds us that "Logic is a normative discipline. It aims to say what reasons are
good reasons. . . . It lays down standards. It says what reasons ought to move
one."2 We've assumed that Scripture and God's law aren't sufficient for such things, that we needed to go to mathematics to discern good and bad reasons. How weird is that? But God's law is sufficient for all things, even logic.
Think at least of the easy case of informal logic where most of our reasoning problems arise.
Most informal fallacy discussions just hang there insisting on their own authority, pretending not to be making ethical judgments. In fact, we could learn most of these from simple biblical wisdom: don't be hasty in your judgments. But careful exegesis might also lead us to qualify other "fallacies." That would be a great discussion to begin: which traditional fallacies are grounded in scriptural ethics and which should be thrown out? which added?
Trinity, creation, and God's law provide all the material we need for a successful, rich logic. It would be similar in many surface respects to traditional logic, very different in others. And you could never arrive at most heresies from such a starting point. The doors couldn't swing that way.