5 Myths about Human Reasoning
This article is part of the 5 Myths series.
Myth #1: Human reasoning operates in essential independence of God.
The Bible teaches that we are continuously dependent on God (Acts 17:28). This dependence includes not only dependence on him for food and physical sustenance (Matt. 6:25–33; Acts 14:17), but dependence on him mentally:
He who teaches man knowledge—
the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.—Ps. 94:10–11
But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what is right*. —Job 32:8–9
Vern S. Poythress
Vern S. Poythress examines how all human reasoning reflects God’s nature. Providing a foundational understanding of God as the source of rationality, Poythress explores the 3 fundamental laws of logic with a strong focus on analogical reasoning.
In any sound reasoning, we are imitating the original rationality that belongs to God. We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27). We are dependent on God and on his knowledge.
Myth # 2: The laws of logic are common to everyone, whatever his religion.
God, the one true God, is the God who rules over all. His own consistency and faithfulness of character are the basis for human logic. So the divine reference point of God’s rationality is the same for everyone. But sin corrupts us, including not only our desires but our minds:
They [the Gentiles who do not trust in God] are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.—Eph. 4:18
This darkness of sin generates subtle differences between the way that a Christian and a non-Christian understands logic. As an example, take the law of noncontradiction. A Christian knows that the law has its foundation in God’s character and his consistency with himself. God does not contradict himself. By contrast, a non-Christian tends to treat himself as if he were the final standard for what is contradictory.
In addition, the laws of logic display in subtle ways the mystery of the Trinity--that God is three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. How is the Trinity displayed?
All laws about the universe are laws that issue from God. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). In a similar manner, the laws of logic can be considered as what God speaks. And what God speaks has a Trinitarian structure. At the foundation for any specific words of God there is the grand truth of John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word.” God the Father eternally speaks the Word (who is God the Son) in the context of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, according to Ezekiel 37:10, 14, functions like the breath of God. So the law of non-contradiction comes as Trinitarian speech.
The law of noncontradiction says, briefly, that a statement and its opposite cannot both be true. For example, it cannot be the case both that snow is white and that snow is not white. For this law to make sense, both the statement (snow is white) and its opposite must have stable meaning. This stability is based on the stability of God. The stability belongs to all three persons of the Trinity, but especially to God the Father, whom the Bible associates especially with God’s plan for the world. Second, in order to have the opposite statement, we must understand what it means to produce an opposite or contradictory statement. The production is a dynamic movement. This movement has its basis in God, who is eternally active. Activity belongs to all three persons in the Trinity. But dynamic action belongs especially to God the Son, who is sent by the Father to accomplish redemption in time and space. Third, the law of noncontradiction makes sense only if there is a relation in place between the two opposite statements. This relation has its ultimate origin in God. God is a relational God, in the sense that each person of the Trinity has a personal relation to the other two persons. The presence of relations belongs to all three persons. But it belongs especially to the Holy Spirit, who brings us into relation to God as he indwells us and unites us to Christ our Savior.
God, the one true God, is the God who rules over all.
All three persons of the Trinity must exist, in one God and in relation to each other, if the law of noncontradiction is going to make sense.
Myth #3: The laws of logic are the same, whether or not God exists.
In fact, the laws of logic are a reflection of who God is, in his consistency with himself.
Myth # 4: The most rigorous forms of reasoning are those that eliminate all analogies and use purely literal language.
All human reasoning is analogous to God’s knowledge, which is infinite. So we cannot eliminate analogy in any kind of reasoning that we do. In addition, those forms of reasoning that appear to be most “rigorous” operate within a larger environment of human understanding, and within an environment of human language that is dependent on analogies that God has put in place and maintains in his acts of creation and providence.
Myth #5: What someone knows intuitively should be allowed to overrule what is reasoned out.
Some people favor their intuition to any rational argument and plunge ahead. Other people favor their reason to any kind of intuition and plunge ahead even when their intuition is telling them that there must be a flaw in their reasoning if it leads to such absurd results. Both kinds of people get themselves into trouble.
In fact, human reasoning, intuition, emotions, and all the other aspects of who we are all contaminated by sin (Eph. 4:17–19). No one of these areas of human life is absolutely trustworthy. Christ came to redeem us comprehensively. That includes not only giving us the forgiveness of our sins, but through the Holy Spirit progressively moving us out of our sinful desires and habits and into a life of joyful service to Christ and to the Father. He renews our minds and our emotions and our intuitions. One of the main ways in which he does it is by instructing us in the Bible (Rom. 12:1–2; Ps. 1:2; Ps. 19:7–14; Ps. 119:1, 105).
Vern S. Poythress is the author of Redeeming Reason: A God-Centered Approach.
Popular Articles in This Series
5 Myths about Angels and Demons
Sadly, there is a lot of confusion about angels and demons and certain myths that simply won’t die. Here are five of them.
In all the areas of theology where Calvin made his most distinguishing contributions, we see the exaltation of the work of the Spirit driving his analysis.
People are susceptible to believing all sorts of misconceptions about the purposes and practices of marriage.
Depression can be quite as fiery a trial as any other. The good news is that God does indeed hear the cry of the afflicted.