Is God Limited by Logic?
What is the relationship between God and logic? If God is logical, does that mean He is subservient to the laws of logic? Or are the laws of logic subservient to God and therefore defined – and possibly manipulated – by Him? This week on Ask Away, Vince and Jo Vitale respond to a listener’s questions on the nature of logic, the character of God, and how to hold the tension between the two.
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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis.
Dealing with the incomprehensibility of God is difficult for even the most learned of apologist or theologian. To some, it seems that God is external to logic. While to others, logic is assumed, and paradox is embraced. Even more confusing to some is the truth that much of what they believe is heavily influenced by non-Christian concepts, rather than biblical ones.
How do we preach a God which is coherent and knowable, yet is beyond complete comprehension? How are we to deal with logic and paradox in a way which is satisfying? Is it even possible? Are God's logic and human logic somehow similar and different at the same time? Does someone have an aspirin? Because, my head hurts just thinking about this stuff.
But, before we get started, Vince, can you tell our listeners why they should prayerfully consider supporting RZIM?
Vince Vitale: Sure, Michael. It's easy for me to talk about that, because I personally love supporting this ministry in a whole host of ways. One of the real privileges of my life, God has opened doors for this ministry that are unique, and that are impactful in a very significant way, across the globe, almost a hundred evangelists now operating in almost 20 different countries. The stories that come back through this ministry, every week, of the life transformation that God is doing across the world is genuinely incredible and such a privilege to be a part of.
If you can come alongside that in prayer, if you can come alongside that in your resources, if you can come alongside that in relationship and by being part of our wider community of RZIM, I would encourage you to. That would be a real gift to us. My hope would be that that would be a great gift to you and to your family as well.
Michael Davis: If you would like to support us financially, all you have to do is go to rzim.org and then click the give tab.
This episode's question is from Joel Smith. “How would I respond to someone that believes in God but thinks that to know God or believe in God does not require coherence? I hear this a lot: God doesn't operate by man's logic. Does using the laws of logic mean that God is bound by a coherent way of knowing or paradigm? Is God bound to the laws of logic, or can He manipulate them at will? Someone will say that a miracle defies logic. I don't agree. I would say miracles defy natural science but not logic, because God can't be existent and non-existent at the same time. I guess I ask this, because if I were to say that God does follow logic, then it would look like God is inferior to logic. But, if I say that He does things incoherently, then how could there be truth?”
Jo Vitale: Joel, this is such a fantastic question. Thank you very much for asking it today. It reminds me of the question, does your mother know that you're stupid? It's just like that, right? There's no, in a sense, there's no good answer to this question. It sounds like a set you up. It's kind of like a catch-22. But, it's one of those questions you'll often hear from atheists in a kind of like, "Ha, take that Christian." There's no way out of this tangle.
But, I can see the logic of your question, if you like. If you say that God has to follow logic, then it implies there's a law of logic that He sits under. If you say that He doesn't, then how do you trust anything that He says? How do you know His character will be consistent? He can do anything and be extremely unreliable.
In many ways, it's almost a reformulation of the, and Vince is going to laugh at my pronunciation here, but Euthyphro dilemma. Is that how you even say that? I just cannot even pronounce-
Vince Vitale: You got it.
Jo Vitale: ...that word.
Vince Vitale: You got it.
Jo Vitale: Thank you. I'm trying to be philosophical, but it's just the hardest word in the world to say. It's this impossible tongue-twister.
But, that's another question formulated this way. That one is around the question of God's goodness. It's a similar thing. The idea of, is there a moral law that God has to sit under and be accountable to? In which case, how is He God, or is God Himself the definition of what is good? In which case, He could do anything and call it good. But, how do we know...He could call anything good. How do we know it would actually be good and is that problematic? It puts goodness at the whim of God's nature.
Did I express that well?
Vince Vitale: That was very good.
Jo Vitale: Thank you-
Michael Davis: My brain-
Jo Vitale: ...very much.
Michael Davis: ...hurts right now.
Vince Vitale: Very good.
Michael Davis: Thank you.
Jo Vitale: Thank you. See, you see, being married to a philosopher, you pick stuff up. It's-
Vince Vitale: It's just impressive that you got the word good into a sentence that many times.
Jo Vitale: Thank you.
But, the point being, there are different aspects of God's character that you can bring this same dilemma to, whether it's logic or goodness or justice or love or different aspects. In many ways, it's a reformulation of that question: Does God sit under certain principles, or does He define them? And, if He defines them, is there a problem with that? Does that mean that He can be inconsistent?
Now that I've just unpacked that for us, Vince is going to break it down.
Michael Davis: This where the alley-oop starts.
Jo Vitale: Yeah.
Michael Davis: Vince, dunk it for us.
Jo Vitale: Bring it.
Vince Vitale: No, that, no, that's excellent. I was thinking, you can put this in the form of a dilemma. Tell me what you guys think about this. I was just thinking this through, but if someone says, "God does not operate by logic," okay, either they are saying that God could not make Himself known within our finite logical constraints, or that God would not make Him known within our finite logical constraints.
Now, if He could not make Himself known within our logical systems, God lacks the power to do so. He's not powerful enough to make Himself known in our context.
If He, instead, would not do that, I think, then God lacks love. Because, a critical component of love is sharing about yourself with the one that you love. The only way for God to share about Himself with us is to do so within the logical constraints that we have.
But, the Christian God is limitless in both love and power. He's powerful enough to operate within our logical system, and He's loving enough to operate within our logical system, because He wants to communicate Himself to us.
If we say that God does not operate by logic within our logical understanding, we're either saying He's not capable of doing so, or He's not willing to do so. If He's not capable of doing so, He's not powerful enough. If He's not willing to do so, He's not loving enough.
Any being that's not operating within our logical system, I don't think is actually the Christian God, because the Christian God is all-powerful. He's capable of doing it. And, He's all-loving. He would want to do it, because He wants to reveal Himself, and He wants to be known.
Jo Vitale: It reminds me of the saying, "To thine own self be true," which, in general, I hate as a saying, because why would you want to be true to yourself? When we're all so messed up, that if we're just true to our feelings and our instincts and our own nature, we're not going to land in a good spot.
In general, I don't give that as advice to anyone listening today. But, there is a sense in which it makes perfect sense of God, that God should and is true to Himself. He's true to His nature. And, what is His nature? What is His character? It is to be good. It is to be loving. It is to be logical.
In that sense, if that's your very nature, then to be that doesn't imply that you're under the power of it. It's just who you are. If you are a logical being, that is who you are.
Michael Davis: This actually brings up a question that I've actually had with a lot of atheists, and actually, one that I actually used as an atheist in regards to the...That basically...Logic and God is... Questions, such as, "Can God create a rock that He can't lift?" Other really silly questions that, as a Christian, I think a lot of people have a difficult time trying to even wrap their head around.
Vince Vitale: Yeah, right. You just hear that, "Can God create a stone that's too heavy for Him to lift?" You're like, "Uhhh..." I can just imagine you, Michael-
Michael Davis: No.
Vince Vitale: ...as an atheist enjoying saying that-
Michael Davis: Thank you.
Vince Vitale: ...to people-
Jo Vitale: Mic drop.
Vince Vitale: ...and getting the "Uhhh...." Yeah, it's good.
I really, Joel, appreciate your question here, because your concern is, "Look, I don't want God to wind up being inferior. I don't want to imply that God's inferior to anything, including logic." That's a really good motivation.
But then, also, you sometimes can get some of these questions, which are more trying to do intellectual gymnastics, to maybe try to stump someone. You can have the whole range of motivation behind the question.
But, those sorts of questions, another example is, "Can God make a square circle?"
Michael Davis: Yeah.
Vince Vitale: Sometimes, there's a confusion at work. This is what I normally say about that type of question. The answer, I think, is, "No, God can't make a square circle." But, here's the significant however, not because there's something God can't do. It's because a square circle is not a thing. There's not something that is not within the power of God to accomplish. It's that a square circle is simply not a thing.
Just because you've put two words side by side, does not mean that you've designated something for God to do. God can do all things. But, just because you put two words side by side, say, you say, "Purple love." Okay. You haven't designated anything in anything more than maybe a metaphorical sense, but you haven't designated anything concrete for God to be able to do or not.
Now, if you could draw a square circle for me, like you draw it, and God can create it. If you can actually specify a thing, then God can do it, and He can make anything He wants into that shape. But, just by putting the word square and circle next to each other doesn't designate a shape.
Sometimes, this is true of more significant theological questions as well. Somebody might say, "Well, why can't God just make it the case that we all love Him, and, therefore, we all wind up in eternal life?" Same exact thing is going on here, but maybe it's not as obvious. What someone is asking is, "Why can't God just force us to love Him?"
Michael Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Vince Vitale: Well, okay, we put two words next to each other. They're forced to love, but they don't designate a thing. Because, love by definition implies that there's a free, voluntary aspect to it, and the word we put next to it is forced. Forced to love is like square circle, and that's why God can't just make it the case that we all love Him and, yet, still do so meaningfully, voluntarily, and freely.
Sometimes, you get the silly questions like, "Can God make a square circle?" You have to say, "Look, you haven't actually shown me a thing for God to do. You draw it, and my God can do it."
But, sometimes, there's deeper theological questions, where the same sort of confusion is at work. We, on the one hand, want God to just make it the case that everyone is with Him. On the other hand, we want it to be the case for it to be meaningful for people to voluntarily choose to be with Him. Again, you can't have both at once, because you haven't designated a thing which is coherent.
Jo Vitale: I wonder if sometimes part of the problem here is an issue of language. Because, I think when people, Christians will sometimes say, "God doesn't operate by man's logic." I think what they're really getting at is, "Don't put God in a box." God doesn't have the limitations that we have.
I think maybe it's sometimes their way of trying to talk about the theological things that we find hard to understand, that, perhaps, on the surface, you might point out and think, "Well, that does seem illogical to me."
For example, Trinity might be a good example of that. We look at that, and we find it complicated and maybe beyond our paradigm, beyond our grasp. Therefore, we think, "Okay, well, it's God being illogical, but God can do that. He's God. We don't need to explain everything."
But, actually, I don't think we're talking about logic here. I think what we're talking about is paradox or mystery-
Vince Vitale: Right.
Jo Vitale: ...or these ideas, the things we can't grasp. But, it doesn't mean that God is being illogical.
Trinity might be a great example of that. People say all the time, don't they, it's one of the challenges of Christianity, "One, plus one, plus one equals three, not one, so don't be illogical."
But, of course, when you break it down, we're not actually being illogical, because we're saying, "There's one being and three persons." That's actually not an issue of logic, if you want to get down to just a pure numbers game there.
Other things that you might point to and say, "Well, it seems like God is being illogical..." It was interesting you gave the example of something can't be existent and non-existent at the same time. Well, people might point to the death of Jesus and say, "Well, God died." Is God still running the universe? Is God existent, non-existent? What's going on there? What's happening?
But, of course, again the Trinity helps unpack that. Because, we're saying, "No, God, in the incarnate form of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, God dies in that sense. But, God is also still alive, because you have God the Father and God the Holy Spirit." It's not illogical. It's just sometimes complicated.
But, that's part of the mystery of our faith. But, it doesn't mean there's a contradiction there. It just means sometimes we're having to grapple with things that are hard to understand.
Vince actually has some great analogies here, when it comes to science, because you used the example of miracles defying natural science, as if science always seems on the surface logical. But, actually, even from our human perspective, sometimes, science is going to look illogical to us too. But, it doesn't mean it is, it just means it's hard to understand.
Vince and I were talking the other day about how this is actually also true in the natural sciences. There are certain things that to the human eye or to the ear, when you try to explain it, they actually sound illogical because of what's going on at the sort of quantum level. Sometimes, it is so hard for us to comprehend that it seems impossible in some ways.
But, actually, it doesn't mean that it's not natural. It doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense. It's just hard for us to grasp.
Vince Vitale: I like this idea of paradox you've been drawing out, Jo. When you think about an objection like this or any objection, really, there's usually something you can affirm in it, as well as something you can deny in it. I think what we can affirm in this objection is that yes, God is much bigger than us and far beyond our full comprehension. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts." Now we see only a reflection as in a mirror... Now I know only in part. That's true, but that does not mean that God cannot reveal substantial truths about Himself, even within our logical constraints.
I like the simple analogy of dropping a cube into a two-dimensional world. If you drop a cube into a two-dimensional world, what you see is a square. You're still seeing something that's true. A square is the fundamental component of a cube, but you're not seeing all of the cube. There's more to the cube than just that square.
If you try to explain the idea of a cube to someone living in a two-dimensional world, they wouldn't get it. It would be a paradox. It would be beyond what they could understand, but that wouldn't mean that it was illogical.
I don't think that means that God is inferior to logic. It actually means that God is superior to logic. He goes beyond it.
I think this actually gives us an answer to why certain things are logical, and certain things are not, to what logic is in the first place. How do we answer that question? Where does logic come from? Where do these logical truths come from?
If you take God out of the equation, if you deny the existence of God, it's actually really difficult to answer that question. Why is the law of non-contradiction true? Why can't you have a square circle? What are these truths grounded in? Are they just sort of floating in some abstract, Platonic heaven somewhere out there?
I actually think God gives a much better explanation to that. One way of thinking about it is that logical truths are beliefs in the mind of God. They're not just floating in space somewhere. The reason you can't have a square circle is, because God believes that you can't have a square circle.
In that way of understanding it, God's not inferior to logic. He's actually the ground of logic. Logic is grounded in divine beliefs, in the concrete person of God.
Michael Davis: Well, guys, we are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.
Vince Vitale: Well, this is a bit of a technical question and a technical objection, so we've gotten into some fun examples and illustrations. But, just as we're finishing, I think it's helpful to ask the question, "What is sometimes behind this objection?"
Sometimes, when people say things like, "God doesn't operate by man's logic," I wonder if, sometimes, it's because people want to affirm something of the transcendent, but they don't want to deny anyone else's beliefs.
Michael Davis: Yeah.
Vince Vitale: Right? They want to hold to a form of pluralism, where we can say, "Yup, there is something up there. We can recognize there's more to life than just this. But, I don't want to say that anyone is wrong."
I'm reminded of a debate that was taking place on a college campus. The debate was actually about whether evangelism was a good thing or not. One person in the middle of the debate started yelling, "It's wrong to tell people they're wrong. It's wrong to tell people they're wrong."
The irony of-
Michael Davis: Yeah.
Vince Vitale: ...yelling that statement was completely lost on the person, that he was doing exactly what he was saying that you can't do.
You can't get around that. You can't get around exclusive truth. I think, sometimes, in our hyper-sensitive culture to offending people, the reason that we're attracted to the idea of a God who is beyond our logic is, because maybe we think, "We don't have to tell anyone they're wrong."
That dissolves philosophically very quickly. What we need is not a situation where we don't tell anyone they're wrong, but where we can disagree in the right sort of way.
That's where, I think, as Christians, we're in such a wonderful place. We have the blessing of the person of Jesus who shows us, who is our model for how to disagree in that perfect way, in that loving way, in that way that brings together that perfect unity of love and truth, who disagreed with us by actually giving His life for us.
If we as the Church can take that model and incorporate that deeply into who we are and, likewise, disagree with others, not in a way which undermines them, but in a way which sacrificially loves them, then that will be a true representation of the God that we follow.
Michael Davis: Vince and Jo, thank you guys for joining me. Thank you all for listening, and we will catch you guys next week.
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