Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Essay: Christianity Explains Logic by Glenn Hendrickson

Christianity Explains Logic by Glenn Hendrickson
There have been many attempts to prove God's existence, the validity of Christianity, the resurrection or deity of Christ, etcetera. All of these fall under the broad heading of Christian Apologetics. Various methods and data have been employed in this enterprise, all aiming at justifying part of, or the entire, Christian worldview. I hope to demonstrate in my brief essay that the Christian worldview is justified over and against an atheistic worldview on the basis of humanity's everyday use of logic.
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The argument might be presented as follows:

1. All we experience is grounded in the laws of logic.
2. The Christian worldview alone adequately explains and accounts for the laws of logic.
3. Therefore, all we experience cannot be explained or accounted for outside of the Christian worldview.

Point 1 is hardly controversial. Whether consciously or unconsciously, all humans use logic. We avoid contradictions, lies, making poorly informed choices, etc because (among other things) these are not logical. People strive for consistency in thinking and living, looking for patterns, making decisions based on the past, altering behavior which yielded undesirable results. When people budget money to avoid overspending they use logic. When planning classes, meetings, parties, etc they use logic. Although much of the logic of which I write is not immediately recognized as logic, it is an undeniable experience shared by all.

Point 2 is a bold assertion which perhaps needs  the most justification. Sure, humans of all stripes use logic of some kind to get through the day. But how is this possible? If humans everywhere can recognize patterns, count, communicate (even at basic levels), acquire knowledge, and so on, then how do we explain this? Perhaps if logic was only discernible in societies with schools and better education systems we could say it is learned. But this is clearly not the case. Primitive people groups have been observed telling and re-telling stories, performing religious ceremonies, passing beliefs and knowledge down from generation to generation. Their way of life is notably different than many of the people who will access this article online, yet they exhibit logic in their everyday life nonetheless.

The contention that the Christian worldview alone adequately explains and accounts for the laws of logic is a statement which needs to be unpacked. The Christian worldview is the outlook and interpretation of life, God, man, the world, etc that is presented in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Bible. This worldview is in opposition to all other competing worldviews, whether they are religious or secular in nature. The Bible paints a picture of man being created in the image (or likeness) of God (Gen. 1:26-27; James 3:9). The triune God thus created us with the capacity to reason logically, reflecting the way in which he thinks and reasons. Logical behavior in humanity is reflective of the logic inherent in the person of God.

An evolutionary worldview, for instance, might put forth the idea that humanity has evolved from lower life forms in a purely naturalistic process. If we suppose for the sake of argument that this is the case I would press the question of how logic is to be found in all people? We see the same basic process at work in civilizations and cultures so completely different and removed from one another that it is difficult to accept the assertion that the process of evolution could yield logical, reasoning people across the board.

Contrary to an atheistic worldview which is forced to assume some sort of evolutionary process to explain the existence of intelligent, rational beings, the Christian worldview cogently explains that all of mankind makes use of logic because God created us to do so.  The presence of everyday logic is easily explained by the Christian worldview, it fits hand in glove with its explanation of the nature of God (as a logical being) and of man (that is, of all men and women as creatures made in the image of God).

From points 1 and 2 it follows in point 3 that all we experience cannot be explained or accounted for outside of the Christian worldview, as it alone can adequately explain the universality of the laws of logic. The atheist is at a disadvantage without a satisfactory account for the existence of logic in man. The biblical worldview makes sense of logic, reasoning, and so forth – but the atheist has no good explanation for the phenomenon of logic or for their use of logic (if we grant atheistic presuppositions). It is almost humorous that in order for an atheist to present an argument against God's existence, they must first reach into the Christian worldview to borrow their tools - logic, reasoning, ethics, morality, etc.

This argument for Christianity is best understood, not as a reasoning starting from the ground up (that is, moving autonomously from neutral premises to a definite or probable conclusion), but as a recognition that Christianity must be assumed true at a presupposition level in order to use logic at all. Much the same could be said for ethics, beauty, knowledge, reasoning, the concept of absolute truth, value judgments, moral indignation in the presence of evil, recognition of evil, love, honor, etc. On atheistic premises, man is the highest court of appeal. These and many more become relative and meaningless without the biblical God in the picture. In short, the fact that there is a picture to begin with proves the biblical worldview.


Roberto G said...

There may be other problematic elements of this Van Tillian line of reasoning, but the one that sounds like nails scratching on a chalkboard is the sentence, " Logical behavior in humanity is reflective of the logic inherent in the person of God."
God is personal, but for Christian clarity's sake we must not affirm He is a person.

Brian Colón said...


That is merely a semantical objection to Glenn's approach. To word it differently, logic is an attribute of God.

And by the way I'd love to hear your reasons for thinking that the Van Tilian approach contains problematic elements.

Roberto G said...

What you call a semantical objection is unfortunately an idiosyncrasy in Van Til's writings that some of his followers also adopted. He would often claim God was a person. I agree with you that a better thought would have been to express that logic is an attribute of God. No nail scratching sound there.

Glenn Hendrickson said...

Hi Roberto! Thanks for reading my essay. I'm curious of what defect in Van Til's writings you see in mine. God is a person, in that he is personal (he speaks, thinks, relates, loves, hates, is logical, etc...) Where specifically do you see an error in Van Til's writings? (btw, I'm honored to be associated with the man, he was a brilliant apologist)

Roberto G said...

It is improper to stand by the phraseology, "God is a person" even with what you or others may consider a sufficient clarification (i.e., " in that he is personal"). Christian theology embraces not only details of a doctrine, but also the terms and phraseology. The error that jumps out in this essay is that your affirmation that God is a person (your clarification nothwithstanding) is that it conflicts with the phraseology of God being triune. Your fuller explanation to a non-trinitarian on your position on God would rightly be seen as illogical if you failed to adjust "God is a person" to "triune God".
As a Christian, I know what you mean. But forgive me for pointing out the irony of this inconsistency on an essay on logic and Christianity.

David said...

Why can my dog use logic? Did God give my dog the capacity to reason logically, reflecting the way in which he thinks and reasons?

Beloved_Wretch said...

Glenn, I liked reading your essay but I'm a little confused. I re-read you paragraph about how we can not say logic is simply learned, which I agreed with and that it was designed in us just as it is (in Roberto's words) an attribute of God's, which again, I agree with. The confusion I have is this: If God created man in His image, including the gift of logic, how do you explain animals doing much of your qualifications of logic "recognize patterns, count, communicate (even at basic levels), acquire knowledge, and so on". I'm excited to read your response:)

Glenn Hendrickson said...

Roberto, two things. 1) I couldn't help but notice your failure to point out where in Van Til's writings he may be justly faulted (a failure I would attribute to your assertion being unfounded). I need the book name and page number please. 2) Where in my essay was I not trinitarian? As a Christian that is my hill to fight and die on. Forgive me for thinking your accusations sound absurd. I'm trinitarian through and through, so what is the real problem?

Glenn Hendrickson said...

David, I suppose that would depend on what kind of dog you own :) jk

Dogs (and other animals) are creatures of God but they are not made in God's image. Your dog does not use logic.

Beloved_Wretch, I would push the ponit that humans exhibit basic logic in ways that are clearly and qualitatively different than animals do. Take counting for instance. Humans not only count in more or less complex ways but they have a language for expressing this: mathematics. In other words, we understand the concept that two plus two equals four. We also understand 2 + 2 = 4 to be a meaningful statement. I would put it to someone like David to show how his dog could do either.

Animals do not communicate with language like humans, all humans do. Nor do they acquire knowledge from study or observation. I suppose you could say that they learn through conditioning, but so does a mattress. And then even some dogs seem to forget basic things like how to sit or roll over. Don't get me started on cats...

does that help to clarify?

Roberto G said...

The issue that interested me was simply your infelicitous use of the non-trinitarian phrase, "the person of God". I don't doubt you are trinitarian. I do doubt you will consistently fight and die on that hill with the use of phraseology that is non-trinitarian such as "the person of God". That is the real problem I had an interest in pointing out. I have no interest in discussing the topic of Van Til's writings. That wasn't the topic of the essay.

David said...

“Dogs (and other animals) are creatures of God but they are not made in God's image. Your dog does not use logic.”

Really? I watch my dog use logic every day. My dog clearly learns, reasons and acquires knowledge by study and observation. If you think that mattress is like a dog, then maybe you need to get a dog.

Animals are able to communicate with each other, and apes in particular have the ability to learn complex sign languages, use keyboards with symbols for words and construct grammatically correct sentences. Yes, we have a more complex language than other species, and that’s the key to things like our ability to build more complex mathematics over time. However, language itself is not unique to humans, and in any event, language and logic are two different things. They are not totally unrelated things, but they are still two different things.

Yes, our brains can do some things that non- human animal brains can not do. However, it may be more accurate to say that our brains do things that are similar to what non-human animal brains can do, but we just do some things better. Today, the gap in mental capacity is bigger, but if you look at species like H. habilis and H. erectus, you see that our ability to do some things better does not just poof into existence out of nowhere, but instead, follows path of incremental increases. If God gave logic, reasoning, the ability to recognize patterns, the ability to observe and learn, the ability to acquire knowledge and the capacity to communicate with others to human, then God also gave these same traits to non-human animals.

Ken Pulliam said...


Thanks for your essay. You set up a syllogism in order to prove Christianity. I think it fails to do so.

Your major premise: All we experience is grounded in the laws of logic does not seem to be true. We experience many illogical things. Perhaps you mean, we interpret all of our experience using logic? If so, I can accept that as true, although often our logic is flawed.

Your minor premise: The Christian worldview alone adequately explains and accounts for the laws of logic, I do not accept as true either. You use two lines of argument to support your minor premise. 1) The use of logic is universal to man; 2) Man's logic is derived from being made in the image of God.

On #1, I agree that all men have a sense of logic but I don't think you have to postulate a god to explain it. Man's brain has an operating system that has evolved as part of the overall development of the brain. Since we all evolved from the same ancestor, its not surprising that we all share this same ability to reason anymore than we all share the same ability to walk upright and communicate verbally. On point #2, even if one thought it necessary to postulate a god to explain man's ability to think logically (and I don't), it would not necessarily have to be the Christian god. Any number of possible gods would work as well.

As for your use of the transcendental argument of presuppositionalism, that is "begging the question.' It presupposes God in order to prove God. Kelly Clark, a Christian philosopher, had this to say: "Whenever I read presuppositionalists I almost always think, "Saying it's so doesn't make it so." Saying that Christianity is the criterion of truth (whatever that could mean), that Christian belief is the most certain thing we know, that Christian faith is not defeasible, and that Scripture supports these views, does not make it so. There are few apologetic approaches that are so long on assured proclamation and so short on argument" (5 Views on Apologetics, pp. 370-371)

Roberto G said...

A major problem for followers of Van Til is that in formulating versions of a transcendental argument for the triune God's existence, there is literally nothing to follow. Van Til never formulated one. Not until relatively recently have Van Tillians actually attempted to fill in this great gap in Van Til's apologetic.
The syllogism presented in this essay is vastly different in clarity from other traditional arguments for God's existence.

bossmanham said...

Roberto, just FYI the modern concept of personhood stems from the debates on the trinity in the early church.

Ken, name one thing that we experience that defies the laws of logic.

Ex N1hilo said...


If Presuppositionalism has made one contribution to human thought that is profound and should not be ignored, it is its insistence on the vital importance of epistemic self-awareness.

Everyone's thinking starts with presuppositions or axioms that are unproven within their worldview. There are those who claim that they don't rely on axioms, or who are unwilling to acknowledge that they do. But all do.

All arguments are based on appeals to authority, one's authority being found within one's axioms.

For example, a number of persons I have interacted with appeal to empirical science and/or personal observation as the only way anyone can know anything. In interacting with them, and trying to get them to consider why they believe this; I found it often comes down to this: They reckon their own experience and their own intellectual capacity to interpret this experience as the sole ultimately trustworthy authority for determining what is true.

They will consider what others have to say; but again, the final court of appeal in evaluating the products of other minds is their own experience and rational thought-processes.

They cannot prove the capability of their senses, their experience, or their thinking to operate effectively and competently in this role. Nor do they attempt to do so. Nor can they do so. They can only assume this.

Now, for those of us who rely on revelation from the Creator for knowledge, this is no more or no less an axiom -- an unproven assumption -- than the idea that we can know things only empirically or rationalistically. But the axiom of revelation does have far greater explanatory power, and leads to a worldview that is, in my view, much more elegant, beautiful, and satisfying. And, more importantly, a worldview that is not internally incoherent and self-contradictory -- as worldviews based on empiricist and rationalist axioms are.


bossmanham said...

Thumbs up on that response, Sam!

Ken Pulliam said...

Ex Nihilo.

I agree that there are certain basic assumptions that each world view has. But these assumptions have to do with very basic and specificthings like the reliability of sense perception or the existence of other minds or the that our cognitive faculties are functioning properly. They don't involve assuming the inerrancy of an entire book (or compilation of books).

Listen to Gary Habermas: Here Frame commits the informal logical fallacy of false analogy. He argues that rationalists must accept reason as an ultimate starting point, just as empiricists must assume sense experience, and so on. So the Christian may begin with Scripture as a legitimate starting point. But these are not analogous bases. While the rationalist uses reason and the empiricist uses sense experience as tools from which to construct their systems, Frame assumes both the tool of special revelation and the system of Scripture, from which he develops his Christian theism. In other words, he assumes the reality of God's existence, his personal interaction with humans, plus a specific product: Scripture. Does Frame not realizethat, in the name of everyone needing a presupposition, he has imported an entire worldview when the others have only asked for tools? (5 Views on Apologetics, p. 242).

Glenn Hendrickson said...

Roberto, Please forgive my delayed reply, I've been finishing a paper which was due today.

I believe you brought up the issue of Van Til and it seems only fair to myself and the other readers that you provide the evidence (book title, and page number) of the places where Van Til's reasoning is flawed. i hope we can avoid hit-and-runs here :)

Glenn Hendrickson said...

Ken, thank you for your reply. As a presuppositionalist I would point out a few misunderstandings in your assessment of my essay. I do not posit the existence of a god after observation and autonomous rational inquiry into the facts of the universe and of life around me. Quite the contrary, I recognize that given my ability to think rationally, logically, with categories, syllogisms, and so on, and given the amazingly complex universe, the Christian God must exist. If you read a presuppositionalist as though he were writing autonomously you will misunderstand what is being said.

For instance, I am not presupposing God in order to prove God. I am saying that given the world we live in and the condition of humans (with regard to logic specifically) God must exist.

Glenn Hendrickson said...

David, i have owned a dog in the past, and a mattress. I also appreciate your shifting from a dog to a different animal which seems to support your argument. How convenient! Regardless of what animal you want to talk about, an animal remains to be discovered which can make use of symbols, distinct language and the like on their own. It is fascinating that certain animals have been conditioned to perform seemingly complex and (dare i say) seemingly logical actions.

My question to you, then, is what "complex sign languages" have apes (or any other animal) been observed using who have not been conditioned by humans? How many apes (or any other animals) do you know of that use "keyboards" which were not made by humans? Are you saying that apes (or any other animals) that have invented "symbols for words" and been able to "construct grammatically correct sentences" without the aid of humans? Because it seems to me that as soon as humans (God's image bearers) start conditioning apes you are not making a legitimate comparison.

Animals clearly do not communicate, or think logically because they are not made in the image of God.

Ken Pulliam said...


I don't follow your logic. You say: I do not posit the existence of a god after observation and autonomous rational inquiry into the facts of the universe and of life around me.

But then you seem to contradict yourself when you say: I recognize that given my ability to think rationally, logically, with categories, syllogisms, and so on, and given the amazingly complex universe, the Christian God must exist.

It seems that in your second statement you conclude that God must exist after observing the fact man has the capability to reason and use logic and that the universe is amazingly complex. How is that not a contradiction of your first statement? I must be missing something.

Roberto G said...

To any and all interested, I alluded to a Van Tillian idiosyncrasy of referring to God as a person. The topic of the essay was not Van Til, but for those interested, you may try looking for VT's intro to systematic theology and I'm sure his other works. Not only him, but Frame and Bahnsen followed VT at times when they referred to the "person of God".
Referring to God as a person is the error I was referring to. I mentioned the reasons why this is problematic for a coherent Christian testimony. Hope that helps.

David said...

"Animals clearly do not communicate, or think logically because they are not made in the image of God."

My dog has learned to do many, many things that I did not teach him or condition him to do. Maybe you should try living with a sheltie.

I think that you are confusing the phrase "complex language" with words like "logic" and "communication" and "reason". In short, you moved the goal posts. Further, those mental abilities that make us unique (complex symbolic language) reside in evolved brains. No direct intervention by God is required to explain why we have unique mental capacities. We don't speak English, etc., because we are in the image of God, we speak because we possess a part of the brain called Broca's area.

(I switched to talking about apes, because you switched from talking about logic and reaon to talking about complex language. You moved the goal posts, so I changed species. In any event, apes are still, obviously, nonhuman animals.)

Stephen said...

Roberto G, you're absolutely right about CVT. He stated that God is both a person and three persons. Very confusing to say the least. To us it may seem contradictory that God can be both *a* person and *three* persons at the same time, but to CVT it was the beloved paradox (a positive Vantillian category).

Here are some references for Glenn:

"We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person."

"We must maintain that God is numerically one. He is one person."

(Introduction to Systematic Theology, Ch. 17, p.229)

CVT also said strange things such as "The persons of the Godhead are mutually exhaustive one of another." (Ibid. 220)

Gordon Clark refutes such a claim by noting that God the Father cannot say "I am the Son," nor can God the Holy Spirit say "I am the Father," etc. Clark proved CVT wrong about the persons of the Godhead being mutually exhaustive one of another by arguing for their individual distinctiveness of person.

John Robbins has called CVT's position heresy since it denies the orthodox position of one essence, three persons.

I'll see if I have any other references. I recall a discussion in one of John Frame's works, but forget which one.

Sam said...

Without a doubt, most Christian scholars today deny that God is a "person" and castigate the view that he is a person as heresy. Though I really don't like presuppositional apologetics, if I had to pick CVT or GH, I would definitely stick with GH. He's just clearer, and when it comes to defining terms and making truth claims, clarity is what counts. God is three persons, not one. But we can say God is personal.

My take on the logic and humans connection: being logical is part of the image of God in that it largely constitutes the way in which we are rational. But this doesn't thereby make the property of "logical" exclusive to those made in the image of God. A simple analogy is that of our capacity to make inferences from our sensory faculties. Is seeing a tree and then inferring that a tree is there involved in the rational aspect of the image of God? I'd lean towards saying yes, yet this doesn't mean that a dog must not be able to do the same. Of course, "tree" for the dog will not involve the human concept itself but only an analogous inference would take place in the dog's mind.

My point is that though many aspects of humanity may be exclusively derived from the image of God (e.g., moral awareness and culpability), not all must be so (e.g., inference from perception, desire for such and such, even the use of an extremely primitive "logic"). For me, this sufficiently undermines the transcendental argument presented above.

Sam said...

haha, when I said GH I was thinking "Gordon Haddon", totally forgetting about Clark. So let's make it GC.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why "the Christian worldview alone adequately explains and accounts for the laws of logic"; isn't the revealed truth that we are made in the image of God written in Genesis, which is a book accepted by both Judaism and Christianity ?

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