P4T-#5: Do rules of logic apply to your god?

Phil: Tim, you have stated the following in a previous post.

“Jesus is obviously a special case. Christians believe that he has two natures, one human and one divine. As a human being, yes, he could have sinned. But not in his divine nature. That is, of course, a mystery none of us can fully fathom.”

This clearly violates the logical law of non-contradiction since a single individual cannot both be able to sin and not able to sin.
Are there any other logical laws Jesus can violate because he is “special”?

Note that this is a rather critical point since a dismissal of the laws of logic makes further “rational” discussions between us rather pointless. Or have I misunderstood you? Do you believe Jesus is one person? Do you believe that single person was both able to sin and not able to sin? Does this abandoning of the laws of logic to invoke the “mystery” of Jesus trouble you in any intellectual way? Do you understand the implications of such a stance, namely that you have no foundation from which to rationally defend your worldview and critique worldviews opposed to your own?

  • Tim: Phil, your response reminds me of the tactic Christopher Hitchens used when debating Jay Richards, when he began by asking Jay if he believed in the virgin birth. Jay answered by saying, “I don’t know what that has to do with the topic of our discussion, but as a Christian, yes, I do.” To which Christopher, with great dramatic flare, stated, “I rest my case.” — as though any further discussion with such an irrational person that would believe in such nonsense was beneath his dignity or something. As theists, we could similarly stoop to implied ad hominem attacks like, “Do you believe that the universe popped into existence out of nothing for no cause?” And while a seasoned debater such as yourself would likely attempt to weasel their way out and not take the bate, as it were, that is the inescapable conclusion of true atheism. And so we could also say, “I rest my case,” and claim no further debate is necessary, for this is “worse than magic, for at least there you have the magician” (and the hat he pulls the rabbit from).
    My suggestion is that we not get bogged down in the subtleties of Christian theology and get back to the main points. If the universe did not have a transcendent beginning caused by an agent beyond the universe, and if Jesus was not who he claimed to be and did not rise from the dead, then I’m ready to join you in your atheism and try to enjoy life for what it is — an ultimately meaningless exercise that leads to absolute emptiness in the end. My worldview is completely falsifiable. Show that Jesus was a mere man and didn’t rise from the dead as claimed, and I’m no longer a Christian. Show that the universe didn’t have a beginning or that if it did, it can be explained by a natural process alone, and I’m no longer even a theist.
    As for my statement that you have attacked, I admit that it was not well thought out, and in hindsight, I would have formulated it differently. How the two natures of Jesus could co-exist has, along with the inner workings of the Trinity, been a topic of debate among Christian theologians for centuries. There is a lot I don’t really understand about all of that, and so whatever formulation I come up with is certainly subject to review and revision. After all, when faced with all the data about the “Christ event,” it is not easy to put it all together. In fact, from within the limitations of our humanness, confined to the dimensions of time and space, I’d say that it isn’t even possible. It’s rather similar to what physicists face in trying to put together the properties of light as both a wave and a particle. No one yet understands how light can be both a wave and a discrete particle (photon), and yet the data we’re presented with shows that it is both. The data we have before us (though it is historical and not subject to repeatable experiments like light is), leads to the inescapable conclusion that Jesus was both fully human and yet fully God as well.
    So, perhaps a better way to formulate my statement would have been that Jesus could potentially have sinned — in a similar way that you and I could potentially not sin. Jesus is described in the New Testament as the “second Adam,” and so, like the first Adam, he had the same choice to continually obey his creator (that is, of his human nature) or to rebel against that. He simply chose not to rebel at any point, though he was certainly tempted to do so. I’m sure you could find other followers of Christ who would have a slightly different take on how to best formulate it. It’s a paradox, but being a paradox does not necessitate something being illogical.

Phil: Please clearly outline the definitional distinctions between a paradox and a logical contradiction. I want to see whether any distinctions you pose allow us to consistently categorize known paradoxes and logical contradictions. It seems to me you are simply invoking “paradox” to deflect what is actually a logical contradiction, when you would certainly claim another religion’s man/god would be logically incoherent if he were to be both able to sin and not able to sin.

Currently, we have you believing the following assumptions.
P1. Jesus was able to sin.
P2. Jesus was not able to sin.

It seems, in your mind, this contradiction merely parallel to the wave/particle duality of light, is this correct? Particle scientists are not claiming both of the following.
P1. Light behaves like a particle.
P2. Light does not behave like a particle.
This would be a logical contradiction of the same sort you are espousing.

So, from this point, I’m not sure how you can claim to have any commitment to rationality. What could possibly be your response be to a religion claiming to have a man/god both able to sin and unable to sin? What do you say to apologists who believe that, unless the rules of logic maintain, there is no basis for any type of rationality?

  • Tim: Phil, you are obviously familiar with the “law of excluded middle,” which a logical contradiction violates but a paradox does not. As a matter of fact, physicists (“particle scientist” is not the appropriate term) do claim that “light behaves like a particle” and that “light does not behave like a particle” — but not in the same sense. If you send a stream of photons through two parallel slits, they interact with each other in the same way waves do and show an interference pattern on the opposite side. What’s amazing about it is that this shows up even with a single photon, as though it went through both of the slits even though it’s a single “particle.” It also behaves like a particle when it strikes a surface (as it generates pressure). Analogously, Jesus was potentially able to sin and not able to sin, but in different senses. Obviously, if those were meant in the exact same sense, it would be a logical contradiction. As I mentioned, the historical evidence and the experiences eyewitnesses had concerning this enigmatic figure led them to believe that Jesus was both fully human as well as fully God, i.e., he had both a human and a divine nature. That is a paradox with ramifications that are certain beyond my full understanding.
    Many people within the larger Christian tradition (including cultic groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) reject doctrines such as the trinity and dual nature of Christ precisely for the reasons you seem to as well. They seem to be contradictions. And if the space and time dimensions we are limited to are all that exist, these doctrines would be contradictions. However, we believe that there are dimensions beyond the 4 that we can experience, and various theories being proposed now by physicists (such as “String Theory”) suggest that indeed there are such extra dimensions. These extra dimensions at least in theory allow for such paradoxes to be coherent.
    You no doubt will challenge me on that one, and so I’ll answer the “How so?” question I anticipate you would ask. If our universe had an absolute beginning (which it in fact did), that implies that the agent who brought our 4 dimensions into being already existed in the equivalent of extra dimensions. “Already” is a problematic term, as it only applies to our time dimension, which didn’t exist “prior” (another problematic term) to the Big Bang Creation Event. This is what is paradoxical, since we really don’t have the tools to actually solve this paradox (and if we did, God would not be much of a God, as we would be able to fit him into our puny little minds!). And because God has the power to bring into being dimensions at will (which our existence testifies to), this means that he has unlimited dimensions within which to work. We can imagine, for instance, how God can be both “three” and “one” if such extra dimensions exist. Of course, God is not three in the same sense that he is one, just as Jesus potentially being able to sin and not to sin are not meant in the same sense. It’s only possible for us to “get a handle” on these extra-dimensional concepts thru analogies within our world. I have done that on my website in the article “God’s Extra Dimensions” (http://www.konkyo.org/English/GodsExtraDimensions) if you care to look at it.
    I should also perhaps add that various Christian theologians and philosophers have used somewhat different formulations in trying to come to grips with this paradox, and so it is entirely possible (and perhaps likely!) that there are better ways of dealing with the data than what I have done. My attempt is a hypothesis analogous to those in physics trying to make a completely coherent theory of light by integrating all of the data from various experiments designed to determine the properties of light.

Phil: Tim, you did not supply what is necessary to assess your commitment to rationality. Let me repeat what I asked for. Please clearly outline the definitional distinctions between a paradox and a logical contradiction. (Not merely examples of what you think is illogical and what you think is a paradox, but rather the context-independent rules by which you render your judgments.) I want to see whether any distinctions you pose between “illogical” and “paradoxical” allow us to consistently categorize known paradoxes and logical contradictions.

  • Tim: Very well then. How about let’s refer to the dictionary definitions of these terms. Here is what Webster.com says:
    par·a·dox
    a: a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true
    b: a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true
    c: an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises
    con·tra·dic·tion
    2a: a proposition, statement, or phrase that asserts or implies both the truth and falsity of something
    b: a statement or phrase whose parts contradict each other (a round square is a contradiction in terms)
    3a: logical incongruity
    b: a situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another
    In summary, a contradiction cannot by definition be true, while a paradox look may like a contradiction on the surface but still can be true. I am basically using a: and 2a: respectively for the way I intend to use paradox and contradiction. You appear to be claiming that my formulation of Jesus having both a human nature (able in principle to sin) and a divine nature (not able in principle to sin) is a contradiction along the lines of 2a:, but I am not saying that. They are not meant to both affirm and negate the same thing in the same sense. They are different categories. I don’t know where else to go with this particular thread, and as they are getting too numerous, how about let’s ending this one and moving to others?

Phil: Tim, you correctly say…

“a contradiction cannot by definition be true”

Your claim that Jesus was able to sin and was not able to sin “implies both the truth and falsity of something”, and is therefore a logical contradiction.
There are no “separate categories” as you claim since both natures (divine and human) feed to a single volitional agent. That volitional agent of Jesus can not both be able to sin and not able to sin since the ability to do something is a status. A status is discrete. You have one Jesus that must logically necessarily hold precisely one status; either he can sin or can’t sin.
Do you understand my reluctance to engage in dialog with persons who might arbitrarily call a logical contradiction a “paradox”, then suppose they’ve salvaged an incoherent position?
This issue is quite foundational to any possible progress we can make in future dialogs since my whole project is to demonstrate your biblical position is logically incoherent (not to mention you forfeit any logical foundation by which you can assess other worldviews). If you can simply tag logical incoherence a “paradox”, there is no possible way I can demonstrate logical incoherence in your position, or is there? Can you give me an example of a logically contradictory statement that “implies both the truth and falsity of something” that could not be rebranded a “paradox” as you have done?

Let me restate what I see as your 2 assumptions so you can possibly point out how you are not endorsing a violation of logic.
Typically, however, quoted paradoxical statements do not imply a real contradiction and the puzzling results can be rectified by demonstrating that one or more of the premises themselves are not really true, a play on words, faulty and/or cannot all be true together. [Source: Widipedia]
P1. Jesus could not have sinned (due to his divine nature). [å]
P2. Jesus could have sinned (due to his human nature). [not å]

These are your assumptions, correct?

  • Tim: The knife cuts both ways, Phil. I can just as easily ask you, “Can you give me an example of a real paradox that can’t be written off as a logical contradiction by someone with a vested interest in a naturalistic worldview?” When someone is committed a priori to a materialistic, naturalistic worldview, then, of course, the paradox of Christ’s 2 natures will be “by definition” a contradiction, since the possibility of a divine nature is denied before you even begin. Christian theologians through the centuries have been trying to account for the historical data of the Christ Event, and the only way to do that is to understand Christ as having a dual nature. Your claim is that this is a logical contradiction, but to do so, you simply insist on a naturalistic worldview base from which to view it, which results in it being a contradiction by default. But from within a theistic worldview, it is not a contradiction. The claim of it being a contradiction, however, is yours, and thus it is incumbent on you to bear the burden of proof. It is you that is questioning the coherence of the Christian worldview, and so your argument must be within that framework to be a valid argument for its being incoherent. To make your argument from within the framework of naturalism simply begs the question and is little more than a straw-man argument. I also might add that within a Christian worldview, it is still, of course, quite possible to affirm what is indeed a logical contradiction, and I could name a few that Christian theists have done. But what I wonder is whether the reverse is true. Could a thorough-going atheist even affirm something as being a legitimate paradox? I’m not saying that there couldn’t be, but I’m just wondering.

Phil: I most certainly do have criteria by which I distinguish between paradox and logical contradiction. I’m fully prepared to offer mine once I have yours. Not to have such criteria is to forfeit any right to claim incoherence in the other’s argument. It would be like boxing without having a technical definition of a knockout. I trust we are engaged in a dialog that is committed to logic. This requires that we both have a proper criteria to distinguish between paradox and logical contradiction. You seem to be implying that you don’t, and that you don’t need such a criteria. Is this what you are saying?

Perhaps this will be a good debate topic. I will argue that “If an argument fits the formulation ‘Both A and not A’, that argument is logically incoherent.” As this is obviously foundational to all our interactions, I recommend we debate this prior to any other posts or debates. Agreed?

  • Tim:

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