05 November 2009

A Most Ingenious Paradox

by Phil Johnson



ears ago I discovered (the hard way) that the Internet is not the friendliest place for anyone who wants to stand up for logic or defend the coherence of truth.

I've long been concerned about the erosion of rationality in postmodern culture. I've always known there are naive Christians who mindlessly parrot worldly values, and I've been concerned for years about the potential for mischief when spiritual-sounding Christian terminology gets blended with worldly irrationalism. But I had no clue how much and how far irrationalism had already infected the visible church when I posted this article on my website back in 1995.

The article is a defense of the principium contradictionis, or "the law of contradiction"—which says truth is by definition non-contradictory: "A is not non-A." (Some people prefer to speak of it as "the law of non-contradiction." Whatever.)

The law of contradiction is one of three principles classical logicians universally regard as foundational to all human thought. The other two are the law of identity, which states that an object is the same as itself: "A is A." Then there's the law of the excluded middle, meaning that when two propositions directly negate one another, one must be true and the other false; there is no third alternative: "Either A or non-A, but not both A and non-A."

The codification of those three principles is usually attributed to Aristotle. Most philosophers have regarded them as self-evident. (There have been exceptions. Hegel hated classical logic.) But those rather simple principles are the basis of formal logic and rational thought. Without them, rational discourse is simply not possible. In fact, to deny any of those principles is (by definition) irrational.

Anyway, almost 15 years ago I wrote this little essay on the law of contradiction, and it unleashed the fury of several hordes of budding "postmodern Christians." They filled my in-box with protests, solemnly assuring me that human logic is just that: "human," and therefore ungodly. To acknowledge the incomprehensibility of God is to embrace the incoherence of truth, they (illogically) insisted. Illogic? Who cares? They proudly and steadfastly embraced several contradictions in their own worldview. Their theology (early Emergent nonsense) seemed deliberately muddled. Contradictions in one's doctrine are more to be desired than gold, they seemed to be saying. Their whole idea of "faith" was a Kierkegaardian leap into dark nothingness, where (apparently) any and all biblical propositions are fair game for quacks and amateurs to question or contradict, depending on their personal whims.

But the principium contradictionis they could not tolerate, because it contradicted ideas that were frankly more basic to their worldview than the plain statements of Scripture.

So one of these guys—let's call him Daryl—was especially persistent. He e-mailed me again and again, and promised to supply me with "incontrovertible proof that the law of contradiction is false." The irony of his own boast escaped him, and it was clear from the start that his mouth was writing a check his mind could never cash. But he "stayed up half the night" noodling on the problem, then wrote me to say he had two propositions that debunked the principium contradictionis. Here's the salient part of his e-mail:

1. "This sentence is false."

2. And here's one I got from Bertrand Russell: Suppose X is the set of all sets that are not members of themselves. Is the following proposition, "X is a member of itself." true, or false? If it's true, then it's also false. (I hope I'm saying that correctly. I got it from a book about logic.)

Anyway, there are two propositions that are both true and false.


My reply:

Daryl, I'm disappointed. This is old stuff.

Let's start with Bertrand Russell's "Set of all sets" paradox. You did state it correctly. It is a classic mathematical paradox (one of several.) Those not acquainted with it may have to think a few minutes to see the subtlety of this paradox:

  1. Some sets are members of themselves (e.g., the set of all abstract concepts is itself an abstract concept. Therefore it is a member of the set of all abstract concepts.)
  2. Some sets are not members of themselves. (e.g., the set of all colors is not itself a color.)
  3. Think about the set of all sets that are not members of themselves. Is it a member of itself, or not? If yes, the answer is no, and vice versa.

But it reflects a very naive view of logic and math to assert that such paradoxes debunk the law of contradiction. Most of them actually involve the fallacy of equivocation and can be resolved by careful definition. Search and see.

The Russell paradox is based on incomplete and outdated set theory. Zermelo-Fraenkel (ZFC) set theory is a system of axioms that avoids the Russell paradox. Jensen, Quine, Hilbert, Frege, and even Russell himself all proposed other more or less successful theories to resolve the "set of all sets" paradox. I'm not much of a mathematician, so I won't attempt to explain all those theories. (But you can Google them.) They all attack the problem by restricting or stratifying the way sets are constructed. They suggest there is a logical gap that must be bridged between the definition of a set and the set's actual construction.

In layman's terms: "The set of all sets that are not members of themselves" does not exist. In the real world it reduces to nonsense. The fact that we can define a set does not mean it actually exists. So this involves no actual contradiction and therefore can't be used to disprove the law of contradiction.

Here: I'll give you a tougher puzzle. Think about the set of all things that have never been contemplated as a set. The moment you attempt to think of it, it disappears. So technically, you can't even think about such a set, and it can't possibly exist. (But, hey! weren't you in fact thinking about it when it went 'poof'?) Like Russell's "set of all sets" it is an absurdity that can be defined but cannot exist. Such absurdities pose no threat whatsoever to the law of contradiction.

Your other paradox, "This statement is false," is a classic conundrum on the order of God and the rock that's too big for him to lift. It doesn't disprove the law of contradiction for three reasons:
  1. Statements with self-referent truth assertions are the only kind of statements that lead to such contradictions, because they involve a kind of recursive "logic" that is inherently absurd.
  2. Again, the statement commits the fallacy of equivocation. The paradox in "This statement is false" hinges on an ambiguity that can be eliminated with a precise definition of false.
  3. The law of the excluded middle means every proposition must be either true or false. That disqualifies "This statement is false" as a valid proposition, because it can't be either true or false. It is an absurd statement, not a real proposition.

So the bottom line is that both of your challenges to the law of contradiction boil down to sheer nonsense. And if I may make a friendly observation, Daryl, you are all too prone to assert that nonsense is truth and vice versa.

This is a mystery to me, by the way. In [another online forum] you doggedly defended Søren Kierkegaard against the charge that he is irrational. And yet you attack rationality. If you think logic is invalid anyway, why do you object to the assertion that Kierkegaard (or you) are irrational?

Far from debunking the law of contradiction, paradoxes such as "This statement is false" have actually elevated the status of the law of contradiction in the study of formal logic and math. Computer scientists, for example, have been forced to grapple with and resolve the absurdity of self-referent truth assertions. Metalanguage is employed precisely to avoid that problem in logic, linguistics and computer programming.

Here are a couple of Web sites that have interesting discussions of mathematical paradoxes and computer programming:

http://logic.stanford.edu/kif/metaknowledge.html
http://logic.stanford.edu/kif/Hypertext/node25.html

(The latter has to do specifically with set theory and its relationship to Russell's paradox.)

It is perhaps necessary to point out that all true paradoxes can be resolved. If they couldn't be, they would stand as contradictions, and truth itself would be an absurd concept. (That, sadly, is precisely the conclusion some have drawn, both in the secular world and in the visible church.) But while paradoxes are interesting logic puzzles, they do not negate the law of contradiction. Christians would do well to remember this. Too many Christians have fallen into the habit of using the word "paradox" in the neo-orthodox and Kierkegaardian sense of "a flat-out contradiction that we're going to affirm anyway, thus embracing nonsense as truth."

But Scripture teaches that God is truth, and He cannot deny himself. So the law of contradiction is established on biblical authority.

Yet mathematicians and computer scientists put most theologians to shame when it comes to resolving paradoxes like these. Russell first proposed his set theory paradox in 1901. Mathematicians worldwide—including Russell himself—immediately scrambled to find a way to resolve it. Why? Because they knew if it were irresolvable—if it really debunked the law of contradiction—then it would not only nullify all mathematical knowledge; it would also render truth itself moot.

Indeed, overthrow the law of contradiction and everything can be both true and false, thus demolishing the whole concept of truth.

In effect, this is precisely what the blending of postmodernism and theology is all about. But it's foolish in the extreme to use the language of "paradox" to make truth itself seem absurd. I'm concerned about Christians who blithely say they are happy to "live with paradox," when what they really mean is that it's OK to have an irrational worldview.

Gordon Clark used to define paradox as "a charlie horse between the ears." I don't agree with Clark about everything, but he was right to defend the coherence of truth. When faced with two difficult truths we find hard to reconcile, we ought to view it as an opportunity to work out the kinks in our thinking and try to gain a better understanding of truth. If two biblical truths seem to contradict, we need to take another look and be humble enough to acknowledge that perhaps we have misunderstood one or the other (or both) of the seemingly contradictory ideas. We need to understand—like those mathematicians did at the start of the 20th century—that if "truth" really contradicted itself, the very concept of truth would be moot. Christians of all people ought to stand firmly against every charge that truth is inherently self-contradictory.


Phil's signature

61 comments:

teknon said...

As one who studied Mathematics and works in a Computer Science related field, one of the things I didn't expect when checking my RSS feeds this morning was a Pyro post involving ZFC and Russell!

I suppose I shouldn't hold to a hard sacred/secular dichotomy ;-)

Zaphon said...

Christians of all people ought to stand firmly against every charge that truth is inherently self-contradictory.

Our worldview is the ONLY one that can justify truth and logic; all other players are living on borrowed intellectual currency from the biblical theistic worldview whilst living in denial of the LOGOS himself who created the world in wisdom and ordained it's laws.

Cool post Phil.

Brady Sparks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caleb Kolstad said...

Thanks Phil

DJP said...

My response.

bradspar said...

This is a great post. I think it would be helpful to deal with some significant apparent contradictions further in this way, e.g., sovereignty and free will. I actually heard the great Francis Schaeffer duck the ball on this one - when asked whether he was a "Five Point Calvinist," he said, "All I will say is that I believe in the sovereignty of God and the significant freedom of man." When asked to further explain what he meant, he declined. Can you help all of us non-mathematician, non-hyper-Calvinist Calvinists (soteriogically anyway) out here?

RichardS said...

Without the law of contradiction there would have been no need for Jesus to tell Thomas "do not be unbelieving, but believing" (John 20:27). Unbelief would not be a contradiction to belief. There is no need to call people to repent and believe if there is no contradiction between repentance and non-repentance and belief and unbelief. The rush to deny the law of contradiction demonstrates a heart that is at enmity with the truth of God and the God who is truth.

bugblaster said...

Now you're talking. Gödel would be proud of you.

Paul D said...

ummm. there should be some kind of "drink your coffee first" alert or something on this post.

stratagem said...

He who is not for me, is against me. He who does not gather, scatters.

SandMan said...

I have to agree with DJP's response. Wow, I'm in danger of being bumped down to Pyro remedial class for the thinking(ly) challenged.

olan strickland said...

He e-mailed me again and again, and promised to supply me with "incontrovertible proof that the law of contradiction is false." The irony of his own boast escaped him, and it was clear from the start that his mouth was writing a check his mind could never cash.

As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a maroon!"

olan strickland said...

Don't you just love self-defeating statements? I particularly like this one: "The church isn't to be known for what it stands against but for what it stands for."

Brad Williams said...

Phil,

I appreciate you making me feel smart this morning. I have always inherently known that the law of contradiction must be true. I had no idea I was doing such complicated logical stuff without even trying.

Jay Miklovic said...

The last paragraph of this post is key. We all find 'paradox' in our theology from time to time, the lazy among us will just accept it as paradox and go no further. Those who seek truth will find it to be an opportunity for reconciling inconsistencies in their understanding of truth, and ultimately to grow.

Postmodernism is mere intellectual laziness that presents itself as enlightened thought.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Dear Phil,

I took classes in Mathematical Logic in college at both the lower division and upper division levels. It was uber-cool to read your post this morning and revisit these topics again. Love it!!!

"Their theology (early Emergent nonsense) seemed deliberately muddled."

Heh. Have you ever engaged in theological discussion with Eastern Orthodoxers? What you call deliberately muddled they call divine mystery.

The charge they have against Protestantism is that it's overly, way overly precise and logical in its doctrinal formulations. They regard the emphasis (in their view, the over-emphasis) on logic and truth in Protestantism to be a giant mistake.

It wouldn't surprise me if some Emergers cross over and become Eastern Orthodox.

P.S. Thanks for pulling this one up out of the archives! It was brilliant!

bassicallymike said...

Save me a seat SandMan!

Strong Tower said...

I knew there was a spoon all along!

Mike Riccardi said...

We all find 'paradox' in our theology from time to time, the lazy among us will just accept it as paradox and go no further. Those who seek truth will find it to be an opportunity for reconciling inconsistencies in their understanding of truth, and ultimately to grow.

Postmodernism is mere intellectual laziness that presents itself as enlightened thought
.

Amen. That comment should get repeated every 15 comments or so. And it has implications for more than the emergers.

joel said...

It has always seemed strange to me that we should have to agree on a set of logical principals. Didn't God give men inherently logical minds so that He could communicate with us and we with one another? Now because of the wickedness of men who supress the truth in unrighteousness we have to sit down and learn about strange branches of mathematics that use strange symbols and strange words just so we can try to convince people that we should be able to have a rational conversation with them about God. We have spent a lot of time and effort and we have not even gotten to the Gospel. Isn't there some way around all this?

stratagem said...

TUAD
I read Phil's article here as addressing applying logic to the things that are revealed in Scripture. I believe the EO people are right in saying that some things are not revealed, and therefore immune to logical analysis, i.e., they are mysteries.

Is it possible that some of the Eastern Orthodox people "really, really don't get Deuteronomy 29:29??"

stratagem said...

Joel
If those Emergers who are smugly above rationality were put in a wilderness setting where they were forced to survive, they'd quickly abandon irrational thinking in favor of logical (natural) thinking. So I believe you're on to something.

Tim said...

I'm concerned about Christians who blithely say they are happy to "live with paradox," when what they really mean is that it's OK to have an irrational worldview.

Well said.

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

Was it Daryl who coined the phrase, "What is truth?" or was that Robb Bell?

Sorry my bad- Rob Bell is the one who insisted that Daryl and his pomo ilk are somehow a gospel. They represent a gospel(for sure) - but not the Gospel.

Apeleutheros said...

"Postmodernism is mere intellectual laziness that presents itself as enlightened thought."

I agree this should be reposted every 10-15 posts. In fact, I think Im gonna post that as my facebook status for all my "postmodernistic" friends to read.

joel said...

"Postmodernism is mere intellectual laziness that presents itself as enlightened thought."

I would agree that there is definitely an element of intellectual laziness to postmodern thought, but maybe on a even more fundamental level it is an unrighteous suppression of the truth, Rom 1:18. Postmodernism touts wisdom but it is really men becoming futile in their thinking and a darkening of their hearts. People claiming to be wise but becoming fools and exchanging the truth about God for a lie. But people still have a conscience that God has given them, Rom 2:15, and we can appeal to that through Gods word. They can always try to subvert rational and logical thought but their own conscience will convict them of their unrighteousness when brought face to face with the truth about God.

Derek Ashton said...

Phil,

As one who finds paradoxes (i.e. apparent contradictions of greater and lesser degree) all over the place in Scripture and theology; as one who passionately believes in the fallen-ness and limited-ness of human understanding which result from total depravity; as one who deliberately embraces a very real sense of mystery in God's revelation (or, in some cases, non-revelation) of Himself; and as one who takes seriously the implications of God's incomprehensibility, I have to say . . .

AMEN!!!!

Because of the above checklist, I am sometimes confused with those Neo-Orthodox and PoMo people you are talking about. For the record: I'm not them.

Here's a really cool paradox that helps to keep me balanced and always has me hunting for possible solutions to Biblical paradoxes:

One cannot even say there is an apparent contradiction unless one has already acknowledged the fact that the law of non-contradiction is normative. IOW, if the law of non-contradiction is invalid, then there IS no such thing as an "apparent contradiction." There could only be a vague mish-mash of what might be called ungrounded propositions (welcome to Postmodernism). So, in my view, the Biblical way to approach paradox is to START by acknowledging the Law of Non-Contradiction.

I believe the Holy Spirit deliberately placed some APPARENT contradictions (i.e. paradoxes) in the Scriptures in order to get our attention. To Him, they are not contradictory at all, but to us they appear contradictory. Given enough time, information, and application of logic, all would be solved - but we're not fully equipped.

To go a little further, and at the risk of alienating some readers . . . don't we have to admit with Spurgeon (and contra Gordon Clark, I think) that there are some things revealed in the Bible which man's creaturely and fallen mind can't quite comprehend? That is to say, in at least some cases, the logic which reconciles two apparently contradictory truths is with God alone? Who's to say God has given us ALL of His logical tools? Maybe we've only got enough to confuse ourselves on certain issues. Hence Calvin's many warnings against "morbid speculation" and the like.

The laws of logic, like other valid laws, aren't OVER God (nothing is) - rather, they FLOW FROM His Essence and Nature. So, can't there be aspects of logic that remain incomprehensible to us?

What I'm really trying to say is that, from a practical standpoint, we shouldn't go too far with our rational DEMANDS when it comes to the things not revealed. We can get ourselves into trouble applying laws of strict logic when some of the needed propositions are unknowns. IOW, we are sometimes in danger of jumping to conclusions. The results can be errors like Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism.

Batter up . . .

John said...

@ bradspar
IMHO much of the consternation over reconciling Sovereignty and Human Will is caused by unintentionally accepting faulty premesis about their nature/definition. To even hold that a "contradiction" is possible, one must presume that they are at some level equal - either operating in the same way, at the same level, or with the same power. Like two billiard balls on the same table, one or the other has to give. I think this inherent presupposition is false. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the idea of God struggling to accomplish his will. So I think there is a categorical difference between Divine and human will.

@Phil
Great post, but I think the skeptical response is something like "Aren't you sanctifying an essentially secular worldview because it is what your breed of Christianity was birthed in?" (not a quip about your age :-) Or to put it another way, "are you not presuming true what you have always been taught is true and are only defending it because your entire sitz em leben is threatened?" I have my own response to this which I have used in many apologetic encounters, but I am interested in hearing a response from an older and wiser guy whom I agree with.

John said...

@Apeleutheros-
Agreed! With Phil's permission I let's all spam facebook with our new PYRO statuses...

Larry Geiger said...

The best part of this post is the photo of the dolphin twins. Such poetry in motion. Such grace!

drmack said...

"To acknowledge the incomprehensibility of God is to embrace the incoherence of truth, ..."

Way to go Phil. Great post.
I'm currently making my way through Bahsen's latest book (posthumously published of course) Presuppositional Apologetics Stated and Defended. A must read.
P62 has a brief statement that has been useful when i've engaged post-modiots:

"God is incomprehensible. He is not inapprehensible, for Paul preaches the inscrutible riches of Christy (Eph 3:8) of God's knowledge."

Also, 1 Cor 2:6-7 states: Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

Obviously God has not decreed to grant this wisdom to epistemologically immature post-modern "christians".

Strong Tower said...

You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

Things to consider rather than counting sheep to get to sleep:

Search your feelings, Luke. I am your father.

What is in between?

What is the absolute value of infinity and is there an edge to the universe?

So the Janks won, it cost the 450 mil, but you have to admit, they won. Or did they? Have you ever had a dream that was so real that you believed that it was true. What if you couldn't wake up from that dream? How would you know the real from the dream world? Or, as Solomon said, money answers all problems. Take the blue pill!

Just try to realize, there is no dolphin.

stratagem said...

To go a little further, and at the risk of alienating some readers . . . don't we have to admit with Spurgeon (and contra Gordon Clark, I think) that there are some things revealed in the Bible which man's creaturely and fallen mind can't quite comprehend?

So you're saying, like, God didn't know his audience when he wrote the Bible? Or, He was writing it to some audience other than human beings? Seems like a non-sequitur to me.

David Rudd said...

Derek,

word.

Derek Ashton said...

@ Strategem:

No, I'm saying the exact opposite. God knew exactly who we would be and exactly what we would be like. That's why He revealed His Own exceedingly great intellect and demolished our unfounded intellectual pride by leaving us totally stumped on a few issues. One of the ways I've tried to instill humility in my kids is by asking them fifty questions in a row they can't answer. By the end of that, after saying "I don't know" 50 times, they realize they don't know everything, and they aren't so quick to question my judgment and insist on their own wisdom. I know exactly who they are and what they need, and how to communicate with them, and I want them to understand that they don't know everything. In the same way, God leaves us with sufficient mystery that we are encouraged to humbly take Scripture at face value, open our hearts to learn from Him, and trust His wisdom above our own way of thinking. Sola Scriptura.

Daryl said...

Ahem...

...lets remember that Phil did say "Let's call him Daryl" and not "His name was Daryl"...


...just in case some of you thought that I wasn't who you thought I was or that I had made an about face somewhere along the way.

I agree most heartily with Phil and have never found the "those opposites both must be true" crowd to be convincing.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "That is indeed the typical response, and it's usually peppered liberally with warnings about "foundationalism" and footnotes to the works of John Franke--as if logic and rational thought were "modern" inventions that didn't exist before DesCartes."

Here's a review by Albert Mohler about John Franke's work: here.

Phil Johnson said...

Derek: "don't we have to admit . . . that there are some things revealed in the Bible which man's creaturely and fallen mind can't quite comprehend? That is to say, in at least some cases, the logic which reconciles two apparently contradictory truths is with God alone? Who's to say God has given us ALL of His logical tools? . . . can't there be aspects of logic that remain incomprehensible to us?"

Yes, of course. But in light of what neo-orthodoxy and postmodernism have done with statements like those, it behooves us to be clearer than ever about what we affirm and what we deny regarding the inscrutability of God. For the record, I think many of Gordon Clark's disciples go miles too far, bristling every time anyone suggests that there's any "mystery" left in what God has revealed to us.

But the far greater problem and the overwhelming tendency among postmodern church members is the post-evangelical push to equate inscrutability with absurdity. Not every mystery involves a "paradox"--and the vast majority of "apparent contradictions" people claim to see in biblical doctrine are nothing of the sort.

For example, the doctrine of the Trinity, properly understood, has not even the appearance of contradiction. We don't assert that God is three in the same sense that He is one. Likewise with the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of sinners; there's no contradiction. To say that God is absolutely sovereign over everything and that we are likewise absolutely sovereign over our own choices would be contradictory. To say God is sovereign but we are responsible may trouble our sense of fair play, but it isn't "contradictory." And once we grasp the fundamental point that our wills are bound in one sense and free in another--and that we act freely in accord with our own desires--most of the difficulty of seeing how divine sovereignty and human responsibility go together is erased. Edwards's Freedom of the Will is one of several classic works written to explore just that issue, and in reality there are quite a number of possible solutions to the puzzle.

Again, it takes some careful thought and study to work out the kinks in our thinking, but at the end of the day, there simply aren't any deal-breaking, irresolvable contradictions--or even the appearance thereof--in Christian doctrine. Hammering out a sensible understanding of how all biblical propositions fit together is exactly what systematic theology is all about. It's not by accident that those who love the ideas of paradox and contradiction are the same people who denigrate systematic theology.

Have all the truths of Scripture been successfully and correctly fit together in one perfect system yet? I don't think so. Is anyone's understanding already perfect? Certainly not. But the work that has been done by systematic theologians is nevertheless quite instructive and edifying, and one of the reasons it is so valuable is that it shows there are a number of possible solutions to virtually every doctrinal dilemma. We don't need to despair (contra Kierkegaard and his neoorthodox admirers) and dive into absurdity. And we must not ever think--or seem to imply--that the truth God has revealed to us is impossible to reconcile with itself. That's what I'm trying to say.

Phil Johnson said...

John: "I think the skeptical response is something like 'Aren't you sanctifying an essentially secular worldview because it is what your breed of Christianity was birthed in?' . . . I have my own response to this which I have used in many apologetic encounters, but I am interested in hearing a response from an older [dude] . . . "

That is indeed the typical response, and it's usually peppered liberally with warnings about "foundationalism" and footnotes to the works of John Franke--as if logic and rational thought were "modern" inventions that didn't exist before DesCartes. (I'm surprised we haven't seen that line of argument in this comment-thread yet. Give it time; they will come.)

For the record, I'm not the least bit interested in preserving foundationalism or modernity. May they die a swift and very violent death. But people who also want to throw out rational thought altogether are the ones who are blindly following "an essentially secular worldview." And what makes the current post-evangelical crisis so frightening is that the folks who are embracing postmodern values aren't even interested in "sanctifying" them; their goal instead seems to be aimed at secularizing the church.

Phil Johnson said...

TUAD:

Sorry; I edited my comment and it changed the order. But note that I had linked Mohler's article in the above post. His yesterday's blogpost is what prompted me to write this one.

Incidentally, when I edited my post and tried to repost it, Blogger rejected it as too long, so I broke it into two. When did Blogger put limits on comments?

~Mark said...

This post was like an oxygen mask in a water treatment plant! Logic is so integral to truth and should be obvious in the Scriptures when we take a moment to just think things through!

Many arguments are settled without even opening the Bible when we just look logically at the question, so when you DO open the Bible, it's devastating to the now ashen argument.

Derek Ashton said...

@Phil

Agreed, for the most part, and I certainly understand your caution.

I still think God uses the "appearance" of contradiction strategically, similar perhaps to Christ's use of parables.

Edwards was a great paradox-buster. Thank God for the wisdom given to him!

donsands said...

"Contradictions in one's doctrine are more to be desired than gold, they seemed to be saying."

That's nutty. Thanks for the deep post. difficult for me to understand some of it.

But I do know that's not Daryl, but one of the Little Rascal's 'Joe'. He was one of the originals I think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2OWTS2qq2w&feature=related

Thanks for the excellent post.

Bill Honsberger said...

Postmodernism is just child-proofing the intellectual room so no one gets hurts on any hard surface. No intellectual hurdles to clear, no hard ethical positions to stand for, and most joyously - no eternal choices with consequences dire!!!
See? We are all ok now. Isn't that better?

Sorry my sarcasm meter just shot off the top. I'll get back to work.

jmb said...

Appreciate the titular G&S reference.

barrywallace said...

I wonder how many people reading this (other than jmb) have seen The Pirates of Penzance, or know why I asked?

Jonathan Vowell said...

G.K. Chesterton (on of my favorite authors) held that the foundation of any Truth was a paradox. Of course, what he meant was that Truth is ultimately "surprising" (not quite what one expected) and even mysterious (i.e., we won't comprehend it fully until the "other side of the tapestry"). Never once did Truth equal "inconsistency".

The more I study post-modernism (its origins and "logic"), the more frustrated I become, not only at its mere existence but also its seemingly unstoppable permeation into western society. Thus, when I argued over the web with some atheists last year, I was confounded when they apparently waved a magic wand and summarily leveled all of my argumentation by simply stating that I could not cite any authorities to back my claims because "there are no authorities". When I asked them "By what authority do you say that," they made no answer. They rarely ever do.

It is at the Church, however, that me ire is truly raised. How can any common sense Christian (with a straight face and tucked chin) make absurd propositions like "the incomprehensibility of God" necessarily means "the incoherence of truth"? Since when did mysteries (what one commenter aptly called "non-revelations") necessarily mean that all is ultimately irrational? The mysterious (just as much as the truth) is a part of the beauty of our religion, yet well-meaning heretics would make it our undoing.

Btw, I know that post-modernism and its permeation into society and the church is all a result of Sin, but I still like to pontificate about it. 8^D

DJP said...

'Cause Phil's the very model of a modern major general?

Jay Miklovic said...

He has the information vegetable, animal, and mineral...

Does the term post-modern, simply mean after modern? There must be a more descriptive term for what we are calling 'postmodernism', because there are a lot of things about modern society that we all wish would be 'post' or a thing of the past.

Dallas said...

The dilemma of postmodern man is that he must use the law of noncontradiction to deny the law of noncontradiction.

If the law of noncontradiction is not-true then it can also be true. If it is true it cannot be not-true. In order for it to be not-true one must deny it is true because the two contradictory views cannot be.

Postmodernism, like so many other secular philosophies, is self refuting. On an even deeper level, if the law of non-contradiction did not exist, it would be impossible to construct the language to discuss it, defend it or miserably fail trying to debunk it.

jmb said...

In "The Pirates of Penzance," an 8-year-old boy, Frederic, has been accidentally apprenticed to a band of pirates until his 21st birthday. He is now 21, and leaves the band. Later, however, the Pirate King finds him and tells him that, since he was born on Feb. 29, he has had only 5 BIRTHDAYS, and must remain a pirate until he's in his eighties. Because Frederic is a "slave of duty" (the operetta's subtitle), he remains with the pirates. At the end, though, it is suddenly revealed that all the pirates are, in fact, "noblemen who have gone wrong," and all ends happily.

The song that tells Frederic about his situation contains the words, "A most ingenious paradox."

My Word Verification is "subtroo," but what I have written is accurate.

Jeff Branch said...

Cool drop cap.

Phil Johnson said...

Kudos to the readers who got the G&S reference.

How quaint the ways of Paradox!
At common sense she gaily mocks . . .

justificationbygrace said...

Thanks for the great post, Phil.

One of my thoughts upon completing your article was that these days, 15 years later, you will face an even greater onslaught of opposition than you had before. I pray that isn't the case because you presented this so well.

Thanks again.

Tom Bailey said...

Take this as my viewpoint - It might not be the truth. It is just a viewpoint.

Isaiah 55:8 is really where I would stand on this issue. Trying to use your mind to solve problems like this until the 2nd coming. What does it do to move your own life forward? Make you feel smart? Make you look good?

Logic does not work in areas like this in my experience if logic were the answer there would be no smokers left on the planet and drug users would not exist.

Focusing on BEING I KNOW serves me better than knowing more and more and more.

I think things like this keep people addicted to knowing and seeking things that in the end... the person would have been better off DOING something to move their own lives forward.

Best regards

stratagem said...

How does someone know that what they are "doing" is moving them forward and not backward, unless they first "know" what is right or wrong (i.e., the truth)?

Don't confuse activity with progress.

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

"Don't confuse activity with progress."

strat-

true true

gmftech said...

For me...God can only be fully contemplated in the context of the subatomic. Nice post Phil.

PatrickBurwell said...

Isn't this paragraph a logical fallacy?
"The codification of those three principles is usually attributed to Aristotle. Most philosophers have regarded them as self-evident. (There have been exceptions. Hegel hated classical logic.) But those rather simple principles are the basis of formal logic and rational thought. Without them, rational discourse is simply not possible. In fact, to deny any of those principles is (by definition) irrational."
You cannot say this set defines what is rational and then claim that to deny the set makes you irrational.
Or have a missed something?
Patrick@OnlyJesusSaves.com

Jonathan Vowell said...

I can see why you would think that it is fallacious, but it is not. What Phil is saying is that if there is an accepted standard of rationality, then to work outside of that standard is to be irrational. Denial of the standard is another way to "work outside" of it.

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ



Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God


But we have the mind of Christ