Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought by Vern Poythress
Vern Poythress, Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary has written a monumental book entitled Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought. What is unique about this book is the way Poythress integrates an understanding of how God relates to logic, their systems, and language that is provided to understand the workings of logic. The book is divided into four parts: Elementary Logic, Aspects of Propositional Logic, Enriching Logic, and Supplements. The first section incorporates proposals for why we study logic, how logic reveals God and his attributes and elements of classification. The other sections get into the nuts and bolts of propositional logic, mathematic formulations that coincide with logical formulations, and theistic proofs or foundations. While this may not be a book you take with you to the beach, this is a mighty powerful tool in understanding logic and its implications for building a sound Christian worldview.
Why is this book important?
Poythress points out early on in the book that humans are all the time suppressing the truth about God and the world around them, including the field of logic. Poythress writes, “This process of substitution takes place in the case of logic as well as in other areas. We engage in substituting an impersonal conception of logic for the reality of its personal character. This substitution is a form of idolatry” (81). Logic in its most concrete understanding is personal because it has been designed by God. Furthermore, the utterances of humans through language displays the orderliness and care for which God has made us, revealing his character in the very way he has created language. Yet, the suppression of this truth is everywhere due to the radical nature of the corrupting effect of sin upon our lives and those around us. Poythress makes mention that even Christians can live as if logic is a system in which impersonality is the reigning avenue through which they see logic. This kind of impersonal view of logic distorts the truth of the giver of logic, God himself, and substitutes a form of naturalism in its stead. To put it simply, if we see logic as being personal, revealing the character of God and his attributes, then we will be better equipped to engage philosophies of logic that hinge upon impersonal categories.
Secondly, Poythress throughout the book uses theological constructs in his logical reasoning that gives the reader an even greater appreciation for the logic of the faith. In describing the principle of redutio ad absurdum, Poythress writes, “When a false assumption leads to contradiction, we know from the self-consistency of God that the assumption must be false” (320). Further down Poythress lays outs Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 by writing: “If there is not resurrection of the dead, Christ has not been raised. Christ has been raised. Therefore, there is a resurrection of the dead” (320). The premise is built around a contradiction that must be resolved through a working out of the original proposition which in turn leads us to the truth. What this kind of reasoning does is help us see that the Bible employs logical formulations that build a coherent argument for doctrines such as the resurrection. Rather than seeing the structure as primarily indicating a blind faith, Poythress brings us near to the logical truth of the statements of Scripture, which lead us back to the one who made all logic exist in the beginning. Paul uses this type of absurd argument to bring hope to the Corinthian believers about their own resurrection and the hope they have beyond the grave.
Some of the concepts and logical systems were difficult for me to follow, but overall I thought the book was an excellent resource for understanding logic. I hope this book is a great tool used by many to discover the rich resources of logic and the relationship between God and logic. This type of book continually bears witness to the best of the Reformed faith and its insistence that the God of the universe cares for every aspect of the created order, even something as foundational as logic.
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.