1. Non-physical causes: Imagine a friend texts you and asks, "Where u at? We still gettin coffee today? Been waiting 20 min." You have a sudden feeling of panic and think, "Either she misread my email, or I told her the wrong day." You check your past email messages and, embarrassed, conclude, "She didn't misread it. I told her the wrong day." You apologize and reschedule.
This little thought experiment shows the laws of logic at work in our everyday lives. In the above example, the sequence of thoughts takes the form known as disjunctive syllogism (Either P or Q. Not P. Therefore, Q). There is an important and remarkable fact that we must take notice of here: in this sequence, the first two thoughts determine what the concluding thought will be - and not just what it could be, but what it must be. In other words, if the first two thoughts are true, then the concluding thought has to be true. It can be no other way. For instance, no one would reason, "Either she misread my email, or I told her the wrong day. She didn't misread it. Therefore, she misread it." That thought sequence immediately strikes us as wrong and impossible. Given the first two thoughts, the concluding thought, "I told her the wrong day" follows necessarily. But what makes it necessary? What makes one sequence "right" and the other "wrong"? The answer is laws of logic; namely, the law of non-contradiction.
According to the law of non-contradiction (LNC), two contradictory statements can't both be true in the same sense at the same time. So, in our example, the statements, "She didn't misread the email" and "She misread the email" can't both be true in the same sense at the same time. We know this intuitively, without having to think about it. The LNC seems to be hard-wired into us. It causes us to think one way, rather than another; just like the law of gravitation causes objects to behave one way instead of another. But the LNC isn't a physical force the same way gravity is. The LNC is not made of matter or energy or space or time. Rather, the LNC is non-physical and ideational in nature. Yet, it can affect our thoughts and beliefs, which in turn can affect our physical actions.
It is the belief, "I told her the wrong day" that leads you to apologize and reschedule. And it was the LNC that determined you would believe that. So, the laws of logic cause us to hold certain beliefs instead of others, and those beliefs in turn lead to certain actions. If all this is true, then it appears the laws of logic represent a clear case of non-physical causation, and materialism is false.
2. Rationality beyond the universe: Further reflection on what the laws of logic must be like reveals that they point to a rationality beyond the universe - what we call God. In a fascinating paper titled, "The Lord of Non-Contradiction," philosophers James Anderson and Greg Welty argue that laws of logic possess a number of qualities that point to God's existence. For the sake of brevity, I'll discuss only two.
The first quality is that laws of logic are what I will call metatruths. The laws of logic are undeniably true, but they are not merely truths; they are much more than that. They are actually truths about truths (hence the term metatruths). The laws of logic tell us about how all true statements (truths) and false statements must relate, and what the laws tell us about them is in fact true. Thus, the laws of logic are truths about truths. As metatruths, the laws of logic are necessarily universal (they apply to all truths), infallible (they're incapable of being wrong), immutable (they don't change), omnipresent (they apply at all places) and eternal (they apply at all times), all of which are traditionally considered attributes of God.
The second quality is that laws of logic have what philosophers call intentionality. That simply means they are about something, or directed toward something. Just as this blog article is about the laws of logic, the laws of logic are about truths. The intention of the laws of logic is directed at truths, just as the intention of this article is directed at the laws of logic. But intentionality seems to be an inherently mental phenomenon - that is, things with intentionality are always the product of a mind. Merely physical objects, like rocks and atoms, aren't about anything, they don't possess intentionality. But things like thoughts, statements, ideas, and propositions do. However, thoughts and statements are only about something because they come from minds. Thus, if laws of logic have intentionality, if they are about something, then they too must have come from a mind. But what kind of mind could produce universal, infallible, immutable, omnipresent, eternal truths? Only God.
Here's a summary of the argument:
- If laws of logic exist, they are universal, infallible, immutable, omnipresent, eternal, intentional truths.
- Intentional entities are best explained as mental products (i.e. they come from a mind).
- Therefore, if laws of logic exist, they are best explained as the product of a universal, infallible, immutable, omnipresent, eternal Mind (God).
- Laws of logic exist.
- Therefore, they are best explained as the product of God's mind.
1. Logic is merely a Western invention. Non-Western cultures don't limit themselves to "either/or" ways of thinking. This objection is wrong in two ways: (1) It is historically and culturally inaccurate. Eastern philosophies and religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have long since recognized the laws of logic, including the law of non-contradiction. That should give us confidence that the laws of logic are not simply made up by people of a particular culture; rather they are universal laws of reasoning that people from various cultures have discovered, independently from each other, through philosophical reflection. (2) Even though there is a Western bias in philosophy, treating non-Western ways of thinking as totally different from Western ironically perpetuates that bias. As one philosopher recently complained in the New York Times:
...non-Western philosophy...is crudely supposed to be wholly indigenous to the cultures that produce it and to be fundamentally different than Western philosophy in areas like its valuation of reason or its dependence on myth and religion. In this way, non-Western philosophy remains fundamentally “other.”2. The laws of logic don't exist in any real sense; they're merely abstract ideas. Normally, I would be inclined to agree with this objection. However, the laws of logic are different from other abstract ideas in that they actually govern our thought processes - they make a difference in our thinking. As Welty and Anderson put it:
We take it as intuitively true that only existent things can make a difference to our lives. How could something that does not exist, has never existed, and will never exist, have any influence on us? Yet clearly the laws of logic do make a difference to our lives, in the sense that our thinking is subject to them. If our intuitions are correct, it follows that the laws of logic exist.3. The laws of logic are nothing more than brain chemistry; they're not things that really exist "out there." This objection is self-refuting and irrational. As I argued in my last post, if our rational inferences are nothing more than biological impulses, then reason is invalid. If, for instance, the LNC is simply the way our neurons happen to fire, then the LNC isn't really true in the universal sense that we understand it to be, and all our rational inferences are ultimately unjustified and wrong - including the rational inference that logic is merely brain chemistry. A helpful question to ask our selves is this: "What laws govern our rational inferences?" If our answer is the laws of logic, then we can trust our reasoning, because our thoughts are governed by rational metatruths that really exist. However, if our answer is that rational inferences are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry - and if logic is merely brain chemistry, then that has to be our answer - it means reason is invalid. Think about it, if logic is nothing more than brain chemistry, then we could say of every inference you make, "You only think that because physics and chemistry determined you would." And we'd be right. It would also make debate, discussion, and persuasion impossible. How could you ever change someone's mind, if their thoughts are determined by physics and chemistry? Lastly, if logic is nothing more than brain chemistry, then this objection itself is nothing more than brain chemistry, and we can reject it. In other words, it's self-refuting.
4. Logic is subjective. The LNC may be true for you, but not for me. Incorrect. You actually know the LNC is true for everyone. The fact that you're disagreeing with me proves it. By disagreeing with me, you're claiming that it is not true that the LNC applies to everyone. But the very act of denying the LNC actually uses the LNC - it assumes the statements, "The LNC applies to everyone," and "The LNC does not apply to everyone," can't both be true in the same sense at the same time; which is exactly what the LNC says. In other words, the laws of logic are literally undeniable.
Image: "The School of Athens," by Raphael (cropped: Plato on the left; Aristotle on the right) - Wikimedia Commons
*To better understand the goals and limits of this blog series, please read the Introduction, if you haven't already. Thanks!
1. James N. Anderson and Greg Welty, "The Lord of Non-Contradiction," Philosophia Christi, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2011, pp. 321-338.
2. Ibid., p. 327.