Does human logic limit God?

Each of the arguments for open theism presumes that it is irrational to assert logically contradictory ideas about God. But, it may be asked, where does faith come in? Is this not limiting God to human logic? (see GWR 34-7; 190-1)

  1. Most classical theists (e.g. Helm) and other theologians agree that it is not legitimate to utter contradictory assertions about God (it is not just open theists).
  1. We use the logic of non contradiction whenever we read scripture. When we see conflicts between texts we try to reconcile them so that they are not contradictory. For example: Isa 45:7 vs. 1 John 4:8 (does God do evil?); Gen 3:8 vs John 4:24 (is God embodied or a spirit—why not say both because God is beyond human logic?); Exod 32:14 vs Num 23:19 (can God change?); Rom. 3:28 vs James 2:21-4).
  1. To claim that God can do the logically contradictory is meaningless (e.g Can God make a colorless red car?). To say that God does evil and never does evil is contradictory and thus meaningless. To claim that a timeless being changes in any respect or that a timeless God responds to prayer is contradictory and thus is meaningless.
  1. This does not rule out miracles because they are not logical contradictions.
  1. Nor does this rule out paradoxes (e.g. unless a seed dies it cannot bring forth life) or mysteries (e.g. the trinity). But these are not logical contradictions for the words “die” and “life” and “one God” and “three person” are not being used in precisely the same meanings. The doctrine of the trinity is not affirming that there is one God and three gods! That would be contradictory.
  1. This does not mean that we understand everything about God. It only means that if two statements can be shown to be contradictory then we are irrational to affirm both of them.
  1. Isaiah 55:8-9 is not about God being above human logic. Rather, in its context it is that God’s compassion is not like ours—God’s ways are not our ways because God is willing to forgive the hurt that Israel has brought upon God.
  1. There is no conflict between faith and rationality. Rather, faith seeks understanding. Christians do not affirm the Huck Finn definition of faith: “Why, faith is believin whatcha ya know ain’t true.” Christian faith is believing that God has acted to redeem us

Regarding the status of the laws of logic, mathematics, and other “abstract objects” there are three main views. First are those who say that these abstract concepts are uncreated, eternally existing in the mind of God as necessary thoughts. For a review of the positions see van den Brink, Almighty God, 184-203. Van den Brink agrees with Philo, Augustine and Alvin Plantinga that they are uncreated necessary objects in the mind of God. Hence, God cannot (de re) do the logically contradictory or make 2 + 2 = 5. For Plantinga, if 2 + 2 = 4 is a necessary truth, then it is necessary for God as well as for us. The issue is then whether it is a necessary truth, not whether it is necessary for God.

Karl Barth, (Church Dogmatics, II/1, 533-8) and Donald Bloesch God the Almighty, pp. 34-5) go in the opposite direction claiming that the laws of thought are not eternal verities but are created by God and that God was free to determine their modal status at creation. Hence, God could have made the “necessary” truths different from what we actually have, they are not necessary for God.

The third view seeks to moderate between these views. What we know is that God works with us within the rules of the game he established for us at creation. These rules include the laws of thought and mathematics. Whether God created them or whether God could have made them otherwise or could break them we cannot (de re) say. However, they are necessary (de dicto) for us. This does not mean, however, that one can then claim that God’s logic is, in fact, different from ours for we cannot know that either. As creatures we have to operate within the conditions God made us to be in and if God is going to relate to us meaningfully, then God must do so within the boundaries (the rules) in which he created us. Whether God can or cannot do the logically impossible is more than we can know. But if God is going to relate to us in meaningful ways then doing the logically impossible will not be one of them. According the third position, proponents of the first two views can agree that there are necessary truths for us and God abides by them in relating to us. This is my own position. See Morris, Our Idea of God, p. 67 and Davis, Logic and the Nature of God, p. 78.

John Sanders

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

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