Logic, Aristotle, and the Necessity of Theism
Mike Robinson Granbury, Texas
Aristotle was one of the world’s great philosophers and his work offers vital truths utilized by Christian scholars. This is the case since Aristotle largely discovered the laws of logic and brought forth numerous philosophical advancements. Many of the finest Christian thinkers have utilized Aristotle’s work on logic and his first principles. God is the foundation for the laws of logic—the immaterial, transcendent, and immutable God supplies the indispensable pre-environment for the use of immaterial, transcendent, universal, and immutable laws of logic (law of identity: A = A; law of non-contradiction: A~~A). Atheistic thought cannot provide the necessary a priori truth conditions for the immutable universal laws of logic; therefore it rationally fails because of this core flaw.
Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) numbers among the greatest philosophers of all time. Judged solely in terms of his philosophical influence, only Plato is his peer: Aristotle’s works shaped centuries of philosophy from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance, and even today continue to be studied with keen, non-antiquarian interest.
Aristotle was born in Greece, he entered Plato’s academy in 367 B.C., and he later taught Alexander the Great. Many scholars believe that Aristotle holds enormous significance for the Christian apologetic system considering that he discovered and disclosed the laws of logic. Furthermore, he taught that they were necessary in all thought and action. Most of history’s best Christian thinkers and apologists studied and utilized Aristotle’s work on logic, metaphysics, and his first principles.
Aristotle’s Epistemology: How We Know What We Know
Aristotle, contrary to Plato’s limited rationalism, chiefly took an empirical approach to epistemology (he believed knowledge starts and is based on man’s sensual experience). As an object is perceived by one’s sense perception, the mind by abstraction starts to rationally organize and discern objects. Aristotle declared that the rational mind comes to apprehension, predication, and reasoning through dependence of empirical means.
This essay is not intended to be a treatise concerning the majority of Aristotle’s “logic” (his theory of the syllogism, analytics, etc.). Aristotle’s work on general logic is vast and makes one marvel. Many philosophers until the nineteenth century thought that Aristotle had discovered everything there was to know about logic. The diverse schools of formal logic did not arrive on the historic scene until 2000 years after Aristotle with Boole, Frege, and Pierce (men who finally made significant advancements from Aristotle). Hitherto time has revealed the incredible genius of Aristotle.
The ancient commentators grouped together several of Aristotle’s treatises under the title Organon (Instrument) and regarded them as comprising his logical work.
A large amount of Aristotle’s discourses comprising his logical works are found in the Organon. Including the following:
• On Interpretation
• On Sophistical Refutations
• Prior Analytics
• Posterior Analytics.
Aristotle and Plato
Truth, according to his [Plato] view, being an ultimate Form, defies definition …
After his [Aristotle] death it was two thousand years before the world produced any philosopher who could be regarded as approximately his equal.
Even though Plato was his instructor, Aristotle rejected Plato’s Theory of Forms (Ideas). Aristotle asserted that the existence of Ideas contradicts itself by denying the possibility of negations; Plato’s notion that forms are thus perfect entities, intangible to subjective human experience, is meaningless since for Aristotle all standards are based somewhere in ordinary human activity and perception. However one can think of and stipulate perfect ideals. How can an imperfect human ponder perfect forms or notions? The theistic worldview alone has the solution: a perfect God has perfect ideals and forms in His mind and man is created in His image, thus man has some knowledge of perfect things. Nonetheless, Aristotle discards Plato’s notions of perfect forms. The idea of Beauty is a good example. Plato considered Beauty to be an eternal perfect form represented on earth in an imperfect fading capacity. Aristotle denied that abstractions like Beauty are unchanging absolutes and not just a part of human experience; the Idea of Beauty is mutable and is not an unchanging eternal truth. Beauty changes with time and human opinions, thus it cannot be an eternal form. Aristotle rejected Plato’s notion of changeless and eternal forms and embraced a more empiricist outlook.
When a question arises on an unusually obscure subject, on which no assistance can be rendered by clear and certain proofs of the Holy Scriptures, the presumption of man ought to restrain itself; nor should it attempt anything definite by leaning to either side.
The great Christian sage Augustine looked at Plato’s idea of a moral hierarchy through Christian eyes and believed that rational ideas of truth and moral goodness are embodied in their highest form by the triune God. In opposition to Plato, Augustine believed that God and goodness are one and the same; Plato does not believe that God is the same thing as goodness, but that God defines and exhibits goodness better than any other thing or being. In Plato’s scheme God becomes subordinate to the universal forms; this facet of Plato’s thought is self-defeating and impossible since God must be all-powerful and beneath naught. What’s more, Plato’s God is good but He is not all-powerful.
Wonder is where philosophy begins, and nowhere else.
Plato (428-347 B.C) has been rightly lionized as an enormously important philosopher. The oft repeated hyperbolic quip by Whitehead that philosophy consists of “a series of footnotes to Plato” makes the point well. Plato gave the world a large body of groundbreaking work. One interesting fact: much of Plato’s writings were not written in his own voice. The most frequent speaker in Plato’s work is Socrates. In fact, most scholars are of the opinion that the great majority of the views imputed to Socrates are the views of Plato. The middle period dialogues provide the main thrust of historical Platonism. Other critical aspects of Plato’s views are recorded in The Republic. In it Plato asserts that humans hold three types of mental states: ignorance, knowledge, and belief. Many of Plato’s notions are interesting, original, and revolutionary, yet many of his ideas are arbitrary. Moreover they lack a foundation inasmuch as he did not begin the knowing process with God and the biblical worldview.
Aristotle writes at times as a type of deist (perhaps similar to an open-theist) even though he asserts that God has an active role in the cosmos and that the material world depends upon the non-material God. For example, he claims God is the prime-mover as a self-sufficient, driving mover for both nature and man. Motion has started and continues because the Supreme Being is the prime-mover. He asserts that all good things, and goodness itself, is a product of God including the goodness in mankind.
Aristotle on the Law of Non-contradiction Utilized in Individual Motion
Aristotle observes that men must act in a definite way. This demonstrates that men think that things in reality are one way rather than another. The Law of Non-contradiction (LNC) compels one action over another. That is why people do not aim to walk into holes in the ground or fall over balconies; this reveals that in one’s actions one cannot avoid the actuality of the LNC. Their actions illustrate that they have an a posteriori notion that they (A) are not the sidewalk (non-A) on the bottom of the balcony drop. Thus, if they want to avoid a painful collision with the sidewalk at the bottom, they must avoid falling from a balcony; the truth of the LNC cannot be avoided in human experience. The LNC is true and if one verbally disagrees with such, one must depend on the LNC in one’s disagreement. This indicates that the LNC is indubitable; it’s pragmatically necessary and rationally certain.
Action is the spot where our beliefs collide with the truth. If a skeptic attempts to be skeptical concerning the LNC, he still must depend on it to avoid getting hit by a car or tripping over a curb (pedestrian = A, and car = non-A). It is obvious that a skeptic must depend on and presuppose the LNC even in one’s effort to be skeptical regarding its ever-persisting necessity. “Let this then suffice to show that the firmest belief is that opposite assertions are not true at the same time.”
With the exception of God, the firmest principle is a belief in the LNC forasmuch as it bears with it the presupposition that the LNC is necessary; a presupposition that is presupposed and required for any venture into human experience.
The Law of Non-Contraction: A Logical and Practical Necessity
For though we love both the truth and our friends, piety requires us to honor the truth first (Aristotle).
Aristotle’s logic will concern itself … [with] either the universal or the particular…
Devoid of the LNC, men could not know anything. One could not demarcate anything within science, philosophy, or theology; all distinctions between all particulars would be impossible to draw, and the incapacity of making distinctions would make rational argument impossible. Aristotle noted that the LNC is an obligatory principle of empirical observation, rational inquiry, analysis, and interpretation that men cannot do without. Aristotle discusses the LNC in Metaphysics IV and in chapter 11 of Posterior Analytics I. No one in the ancient world rivaled Aristotle’s exposition of the LNC. He wrote: “It is impossible for the same thing to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect” (Metaphysics IV 3). Additionally: “It is impossible to hold (suppose) the same thing to be and not to be (Metaphysics IV 3).” Thus it is impossible to hold the same thing to be “A” and “non-A.” He later noted that the “opposite assertions cannot be true at the same time” (Metaphysics IV 6). Aristotle says that the LNC is an all-inclusive axiom, a universal axiom to all human endeavors. In of itself it lacks tangible subject matter, but applies to everything. The LNC is a first principle and is the most unyielding principle. Aristotle states that the LNC “is necessary for anyone to know any of the things that are” (Metaphysics IV 3).
The LNC is a truth condition that makes human experience and thinking possible; the world must adhere to it. Since human experience and rational thinking presuppose the LNC (it is the case that reality and humanity have an unyielding dependence on its truth) it is a universal. Human experience is rational which accounts for these aspects of our experience and not the converse. Human experience conforms to the LNC forasmuch as it is presupposed by intelligibility.
Augustine: Christian Scholar Influenced by Plato and Aristotle
Plato saw that God is not any bodily thing, but that all things have their being from God, and from something immutable… He [Augustine] found in the Platonists the metaphysical doctrine of the Logos, but not the doctrine of the Incarnation and the consequent doctrine of human salvation.
Augustine connects God with human reason and supposes that human epistemic truth comes from man’s relationship to God’s revelation as well as God’s relationship to man. Augustine’s argument moves him from existence of the self to the objectivity of truth and finally to God’s reality. Augustine assumes that God is a rational being and that the rational and the good are identical. God is truth and He looms over all human truth. God must be the ultimate good; therefore, truth and goodness are united in God. His argument seems fairly perspicuous and rational. He works toward that end (telos) by the evaluation of the rationality of truth and goodness, and he casts God in that role as the ultimate embodiment of both. In contrast, Aristotle agreed with Plato’s notion that the immaterial (ideas, forms) and the material (matter, concrete things) were distinct (almost separate in Plato) things; however, he did not share Plato’s belief that all forms were unceasingly unchanging truths that exist independently of anything else; he felt that form was related to the properties of the given matter. Aristotle denies Plato’s immaterial universal immutable forms because the universal definitions for things depend too much on the material substance.
Truth is the telos of a theoretical enquiry (Metaphysics, II).
One time Plato was reciting the story of Socrates’ final day before his execution. The dialogue was touching and somber. Nonetheless as the great Plato was reciting Socrates’ martyrdom, the listeners gradually went away; at the conclusion Aristotle alone was left. The three greatest thinkers of ancient Greece, perhaps all pagan history, were left alone together: Socrates through the reading, his student Plato reading the story, and Plato’s student Aristotle, who was listening. One interesting question an observer could ask: during that reading, who do you call the Philosopher? While Aristotle’s work on logic, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and poetics had a weighty influence on philosophy, many of his conjectures about nature and human experience are odd and unsound. Aristotle taught that the sun orbits the earth and that a newborn’s sex is determined by the direction of prevailing wind. One can always find, even in the greatest thinkers, errors in their philosophy. Yet he also stated that to “avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it (Aristotle).
Worldview Interpretive Necessities
Aristotle’s theory of universals … is certainly an advance on the theory of ideas, and is certainly concerned with a genuine and very important problem.
All worldviews are open to charge on particular claims as well as individual assessments of specific evidence (disagreement over interpretation of particular evidence is often the case among interlocutors—while both are susceptible to confirmation bias). Apologists for a specific worldview have answers pre-formulated for particular issues, so trading brute evidence (or swapping uninterpreted facts) is not the chief means of finding truth apropos worldview analysis.
What are the required rational and ethical a priori conditions necessary to ground immutable universals (including LNC/LOI) required for intelligibility? Answer: countless finite and contingent things along with universal operational aspects essential to rationality. Christian Theism furnishes these universal functioning features; atheism fails. Atheism is fully deficient an accounting of immutable universals required to even begin an inquiry concerning the truth of worldviews. To examine, analyze, and discern proper particulars, one needs a worldview that supplies immutable universals. Materialistic atheism believes that only the cosmos exists; the matter and motion within the universe is all there is. Does the cosmos have the capacity to ground immutable universals? No. The material cosmos comes up infinitely short since it is a particular mutable (changing) thing; it lacks universal reach (it is not omnipresent) and it is always in a shifting and variable flux. Thus the material cosmos as well as the matter and motion within fail to ground the immutable operational features of human experience. Since immutable universals exist, strict materialistic atheism cannot be true.
Christian Theism posits things, forms, entities, norms, concepts, laws that are immutable, universal, and non-physical, but the atheistic materialist denies this at his own peril and self-stultification. Christian Theism brings with it the ability for coherence, moral law, inductive truths and all the a prior rational requirements for intelligibility.
The Laws of Logic and Thought
The fundamental laws, the laws of thought, [are] those operations of the mind by which reasoning is performed.
Aristotle … observe[s], in the Metaphysics, that “the fact that a thing is itself is [the only] answer to all such questions as why the man is man, or the musician musical.”
The laws of truth are not psychologistic, but are necessities of logic; they are objectively true and in force. These laws are not bound to the fleeting subjective opinions or thoughts of men. They are necessarily utilized by all men, but a particular man or set of men (and their particular brains) lack the ontic capacity to ground these laws. I draw from this that only an immutable and universal power source can ground the laws of truth and this is God. The always-in-flux cosmos lacks an unchanging nature to ground the laws of logic. Nonetheless, many modern atheists assert that these laws are not laws; they are not fixed and universal. Nevertheless, Frege was correct; these laws are surely fixed and universal. The laws of logic are not material laws that may change forasmuch as truth must utilize these principles. Posit them as mere brain accessories or cerebral tools and this will place them in the subjective psychologistic realm. This cannot be true because these laws are objective and necessary. Thus the principles of logic are not mere human conventions or limited to subjective governance. One must be antecedently committed to their independence from the human brain (and the cosmos) and their absolute normative governance—they are transcendent. John Frame observes: “People may very well interpret the expression ‘law of thought’ by analogy with the ‘law of nature’ and then have in their mind features of thinking as mental occurrence. A law of thought in this sense would be a psychological law. … That would be a misunderstanding regarding the task of logic, for truth has not been given its proper place.” That is one reason it is proper to refer to these laws as the “laws of truth.”
The True God Exists
There is present in us the light of eternal reason, in which light the immutable truths are seen (Augustine).
Charles Spurgeon observed that “change is the condition of life. … But the unchangeableness of God is the negation of all imperfection, it is the negation of all dependence on circumstances, it is the negation of all possibility of decay or exhaustion.” God has the ontological heft to account for everything. God, as the One who provides the a priori truth conditions for all things, has the ontic capacity to account for immutable universals (laws of logic, moral law, etc.). Mutable and non-universal entities are devoid of the sufficient attributes that are required, so they are ontologically undersupplied to account for the laws of logic. These laws are invariant universals and are required for communication and knowledge.
Come let us reason together (God: Isaiah 1:17).
God furnishes all the a priori essentials; the necessary epistemic equipment utilized in all thoughts and achievements. God has the ontic attributes of omniscience, immutability, and omnipotence (He has universal reach) enabling Him to be the ground for the universal and immutable laws of truth and ethical necessities (moral law) that are utilized in all thought and action. Any position that rejects the true God as the epistemic (knowledge) base not only leaves an unnerving fissure, but hopelessly fails. Consequently, whatever evidence one discovers must be discerned and processed with the rational implements that arise from Christian theism and the worldview that springs from the true God. The true God is the primordial requirement for all knowledge, proof, evidence, and logic. He is the a priori verity condition for the intelligibility of reality. The immaterial, transcendent, and immutable God supplies the indispensable pre-environment for the use of immaterial, transcendent, universal, and immutable laws of logic (law of identity: A = A; law of non-contradiction: A~~A). Atheistic thought cannot furnish the necessary preconditions for the immutable universal laws of logic; therefore it results in futility because of its internal weakness.
Van Til warns that “the only alternative to thinking of God as the ultimate source of unity in human experience as it is furnished by laws or universals is to think that the unity rests in a void. Every object of knowledge must, therefore, be thought of as being surrounded by ultimate irrationality.” Deny God as the highest mind, the source for human reason, one impales the reason one can trust human reason. The laws of logic are potent apologetic tools. However, the Great Logos, Jesus Christ, came to speak and provide the greatest good news: Christ’s death and resurrection atones for the sins of His people. May the reader cast himself upon Christ in faith and find truth, forgiveness, acceptance, and mercy (Romans 4:1-5).
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see my new apologetics E-book God and Logic: Proof, Reason, and Theism HERE
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