Friday, March 09, 2007

Is God beyond Logic?

The other day I was asked this question:

My question involves an argument (debate) I'm having with a skeptical friend. He presented an argument I haven't heard before, and I would like to hear your thoughts (even a hint would be nice). His argument is as follows:

"God is suprarational...that is, he exists above man's logic. It is thus impossible to prove God exists with a weaker (or even if you want to give it equivalent) form of logic."

First, I don't think the conclusion follows. I've tried to find the hidden premise of the enthymeme, but I can't seem to do it without using four terms. So from a logic standpoint, I'm having a hard time checking for validity. Assuming it is valid, what do you think of his first premise? I may be way off, but doesn't his argument assume God exists in the first premise? Is that something I could use? Is there some material fallacy I'm missing here?

Here is my response:

OK let's see - first we need to make this argument plain by supplying premise (2). BTW: Sometimes just forcing the objector to make their argument clear shows its faults, and it avoids you accidentally arguing against a straw man, so I would avoid doing it for them. But just for fun I will assume that I have caught his implied point and look at it from that angle. So here is the argument reconstructed into a valid form by adding Premise (2):

1. God is suprarational that is, he exists above man's logic.
2. [Supplied] Things which exist above man's logic are impossible to prove with a weaker / equivalent form of logic.
3. Therefore, it is impossible to prove God exists with a weaker / equivalent form of logic.

There are numerous problems with this line of thinking. I will go premise by premise.

Premise (1): What exactly does "above" mean here? Is he speaking metaphysically? Well, then all existing extra-mental objects are "above" logic - what does that prove? God's being "above logic" in this sense says nothing of logic's ability to deal with Him as a subject. I would ask if this is a rational or irrational idea. If it is irrational there is no need to deal with it. If it is rational then it is self-defeating for it is making a rational claim about God that rational claims about God cannot be made. In much the same way, if he wants to claim that God cannot be treated by logical argument then his whole project is self-defeating.

Premise (2): Ignoring the "weaker / equivalent" distinction (I have no idea how to put logics on a scale such as this), the biggest problem with this whole line of thinking is the idea that logic proves things about extra-mental reality in the first place. That is not logic's job. Validity (based on argument forms), which logic can prove, is not equivalent to soundness (truth based on correspondence to reality), which logic cannot prove. An argument's soundness comes from having valid form and true premises. But truth is dependant on a statement's correspondence to reality - not its placement in an argument. So, in this sense, logic cannot prove ANYTHING - much less God. Nor are we asking it to. HOWEVER . . . arguing logically is not the same as using logic (alone) to argue. Rather, our logical arguments must be supported by evidence from the real world. Then, if they are logically valid, they are also sound and the conclusions can only be rejected on pains of irrationality.

Conclusion (3): Because neither premise is true (at least in the sense he seems to mean them) the argument is unsound. If he means something else by premise (1) then I'd have to see it to properly comment on it.

Also, although his argument does seem to assume that God exists he may simply be speaking hypothetically, so I would not try to use that. His argument could be easily adjusted to avoid this flaw. All he would need to do is say, "If God existed, then [insert Premise (1)]."

Any additional thoughts or helpful criticism?


Anonymous bd said...


Your friend may have an assumption like "logic is rules of language or man-made rules of argument." If he does, then it would be understandable to say God is above logic in that he is not subject to man-made rules. But this is not a difficulty for the Thomist because the laws of logic are primarily the laws of being that we grasp. And since thought is of being, they are the laws of thought. Your friend's problem then disappears because logic extends as far as being. Since God exists, the laws of logic apply.

You probably know this already, but you asked for thoughts...

8:21 AM  
Blogger AmericanPascal said...

Gödel's first incompleteness theorem, states that:
For any consistent theory that proves basic arithmetical truths, an arithmetical statement that is true but not provable in the theory can be constructed. That is, any theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete.

What this implies is that some things cannot be logically proven -- regardless of the system of logic that is being used. Therefore, even God cannot use His logic to “prove” everything! But, then again, God doesn’t have to prove anything!

7:35 PM  
Blogger AmericanPascal said...

The laws of mathematics are universal, regardless of who you are, or what language one speaks or what dimension you are in. Mathematics itself is multidimensional and is the guiding force behind String Theory. Mathematics is transcendent and immutable.

Mathematics is built on logic, and is an extension of logic. If God can change the laws of mathematics, then Mathematics would not exist and neither would anything else.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Yes, God is suprarational in terms of his essence as a "being", but that being's existence is not and can be proven to exist via logic.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

See this entry.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Mathematics is transcendent and immutable."

What if math is a contruct that only makes sense in the universe that we occupy?

Have you ever had a dream where everything made sense but when you woke up it stopped making sense? What if math is like that? You could die from this life and wake up in another life where math doesn't make sense anymore. Imagine.

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5:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The laws of logic does not apply to God, because God is unscientific, and logic is not. If the laws of logic applied to God, then God would be scientific like us humans. Being scientific is not an attribute of God and is not Godly. You wouldn't expect God to be scientific, and have logical thoughts like us. The thing is that God is so unscientific, that people think there's a scientific explanation to prove that there's no God. But in fact, God is so unscientific, that we humans can't imagine it.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous James Earl said...

Logic is not attributable to one being or concept. It is only attributable to the relationship between two or more concepts or arguments. To this end, it can not be argued that God is either 'logical' or 'not logical'. Moreover, to say that God exists outside of logic (ie, arguments about God need not be logical) is to say that some arguments exist that are not, as purported by its very definition, required to be logical in order to be verified. It follows directly that (since logic is only relevant because of its objectivity) if logic is not objectively necessary it is not relevant. How can that possibly be the case without immediately voiding any thought other than pure opinion?

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That is, any theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete.

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