What we believe has ethical implications to ourselves and others as we use or misuse our knowledge. Therefore, it is vitally important for us to have true beliefs and understand the basis of our knowledge claims. This involves the philosophical field of epistemology, or the method of our acquisition of knowledge. The foundations of good argumentation as an epistemological method are called First Principles of logic which are self-evident and are applied then to our observations and prior reasoning to build conclusions.
First Principles of Logic
- The Law of Identity states that if a proposition is true, then it is true. Put another way, a thing is identical to itself. Stated in symbolic logical form: A=A. This one seems so obvious that it is difficult at first to see why it is even useful to formally recognize, but it is the most basic logical law, and is the basis of the other two. It also comes into play when we are answering certain difficult questions, such as, Are Yahweh and Allah the same God? Is the mind the same as the brain?
- The Law of Non-Contradiction states that no proposition can be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. Symbolically: A != !A. For examples: Can God exist and not exist at the same time? Can God be personal (as in monotheism) and impersonal (as in monistic religions) at the same time?
- The Law of Excluded Middle says that every proposition must either be true or false, and there is no middle ground, no third alternative. Symbolically: A or !A. For instance, “God exists” is either true or false, there is no other possible answer.
As a clarification concerning contradictions, there are three categories that are often lumped together and called “contradiction.” The first is contradiction proper, as defined in the second First Principle above. The second category is mystery, in which there is a logical answer, but we just don’t know it yet. Think about investigating a murder or other crime as an example. The third category is paradoxes, which seem contradictory, but usually involve terms used equivocally but not actually contradictory, such as “jumbo shrimp,” “bittersweet,” “the beginning of the end,” or “I’m nobody.”
God and Logic
Finally, I think it is critical to note that God is not “above” logic, such that logic does not apply to Him, or that the laws of logic are arbitrary and could have been other than they are if God decreed them to be so. I understand when people want to say that He is, they are attempting to keep Him properly elevated in an appropriate position of superiority, but if the laws of logic do not apply to God, then you end up with absurdities such as having to affirm that perhaps God exists and doesn’t exist at the same time. Neither is God subject to the laws of logic, thus enslaved in some way. Instead, logic is part of who God is, in the same way as the moral laws; these are not arbitrary, but flow from his nature.
In the next post, I will talk more about arguments, demonstrating and defining the different types and uses to gain knowledge.
Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!