“Is there a Christian view of logic?”
This is the question that Vern Sheridan Poythress asks in the first chapter of his book “Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought,” and that is the question I will seek to answer here.
While we are first and foremost ambassadors of Christ and heralds of the Gospel, we that have been blessed to be part of the Classical Christian Education (CCE) movement often find ourselves in positions wherein we are called upon to be advocates for CCE. We are called upon to answer the question, “What exactly is classical Christian education?” Answering this question effectively requires both a knowledge of what is essential to classical Christian education, as well as the ability to articulate that knowledge in an understandable and winsome manner. This can seem like a daunting task to those new to CCE – and even to those who have been in CCE for years.
While an adequate response to this question is beyond the scope of what I am seeking to do here, I would posit that logic is a necessary component of CCE, or to use a common classroom phrase, logic is a necessary, but insufficient part of CCE. Indeed logic, or dialectic, is an essential component of the Trivium (grammar, dialectic and rhetoric), and the Trivium has been historically viewed as essential to CCE. The antiquity and importance of logic has been echoed throughout time by various and diverse thinkers. Regarding the antiquity of logic, Augustine in “On Christian Doctrine” claims that logic has its origin in God, and in reference to the importance and usefulness of logic, Dorothy Sayers, in “The Lost Tools of Learning,” claimed that in “the medieval scheme of education” the logic student “learned how to use language: how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in an argument (his own arguments and other people’s).”
Although the antiquity and importance of logic is beyond dispute, Poythress’ question remains: “Is there a Christian view of logic?”
In the beginning of our 7th grade “Introduction to Logic” course, I aim to help the students establish a foundation for thinking by answering the question Pilate put forth to Jesus in John 18:38: “What is truth?” The irony of this question, of course, is found in the fact that Truth incarnate was the One to whom he was speaking. In our introductory class, we define truth as Christ, Scripture and that which corresponds with reality. While this is not necessarily an exhaustive definition, it is sufficient for that which we are seeking to accomplish. Having established a foundation for truth, we then proceed to the laws of thought and interacting with the general content of the curriculum (e.g. defining terms, understanding statements and truth value, constructing/evaluating arguments, testing for validity and recognizing fallacies).
As we were recently discussing the distinction between a valid argument (correct form: the conclusion follows form the premises) and a sound argument (valid with true premises), one of the students asked how we can know that our premises are true. Moreover, how can we prove to someone else that our premises are true? This is an extremely important question in logic due to the fact that two of the most effective ways to refute an argument are either to simply show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises (i.e. it is invalid), or to show that although the conclusion follows form the premises, one or both premises are false (i.e. it is unsound). This led to a class discussion on three ways in which we may show a proposition to be true:
- Self-evidential propositions are true (these are propositions that are so obvious, that they require no proof; the founders of this nation recognized certain truths to be self-evident).
- Tautologous propositions are true (tautologies are statements that are true by logical structure; “Jesus is the Messiah or Jesus is not the Messiah” is necessarily true).
- Propositions that have already been proven true may also be utilized as true premises.
While some will argue against or will be unwilling to accept #1 and #3 – and in our post-modern age, perhaps even #2 – in certain circumstances, common grace still renders them useful criteria for establishing truth in most circumstances and with most people.
All of this reminded me of a couple things that serve to answer Poythress’ question.
First, the reason we can effectively engage in logic is because as Christians, we believe truth exists. If, according to consistent post-modern theory, truth and morality are mere cultural constructs, then there is no objective truth, which means that sound argumentation, as it has been historically understood, is not possible. Second, I began to think on the connection between our criteria for establishing the truth value of a proposition and our definition of truth – in particular, Christ. Indeed, our criteria are not only possible because we believe objective and transcendent truth exists, but they themselves point back to objective transcendent truth, or more specifically the Truth. Indeed, the very idea of a self-evident proposition is a reflection of the One whose existence is self-evident and who is self-existent. Moreover, tautologies reflect the blessed Trinity, wherein there is diversity and unity coupled with a necessary manifestation of truth. Lastly, the fact that we can know truth, or even reason to new conclusion from revealed truth, points back to the One who has revealed truth to us, either via general or special revelation and is the very source of truth, wisdom and logic.
So, in answer to the question, which Poythress takes great pains to answer in his aforementioned book, I would answer with a resounding yes!
Let us then give glory to the God from whom logic comes and to whom logic points, “for from Him, through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever, Amen” (Romans 11:36).
by Jeremy Sturdivant, CCS Theology/Philosophy Department Chair