At least since Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), there has been no greater apparent conflict among philosophical ideas than that between faith and reason. But the most interesting fact of this conflict is that there is no conflict. The “reason” that there is no conflict is basic to both common conversation and more importantly to philosophical and religious discussion. The whole is simply a matter of extensive investigation of definitions.

I have written extensively about faith,[1] so my focus here will be on a somewhat thorough definition of reason. I will show that reason is rational thought which is logic (to be designated as R/R/L) and that logic is far broader than commonly perceived, even by academicians and philosophers. But by an extensive definition of logic, what it is, and how it functions in both everyday and philosophical use will become more apparent.

What Is Reason?

Below, I am going to argue that logic, reason, and rationalism are synonyms—equal in meaning. However, I realize that I am using “reason” and “rationalism” somewhat differently than common usage in philosophy and history. Faith and reason (rationalism) have been considered opposites—antipathies, if you will. But rationalism, reason, and logic are intertwined etymologically (below) which gives a clue that they are synonyms and equivalent in meaning. The application of logic is easily seen as a process, not an epistemology. Somehow, possibly with Thomas Aquinas, “reason” and “rationalism” (that is, rational thinking) came to be seen epistemologically, and thus separated from logic. But, I will argue below that this divergence forced the antipathy between faith and reason when reason has always followed faith because one’s first philosophy (starting point, presupposition, axiom, etc.) is always a position of faith, presupposed because it is first. (See “Related Issues” below.)

The etymology of “reason” virtually unifies reason, rationalism (rational thinking), and logic. At origins of “reason” include resound (Anglo-French), raison (French) from rationem (Latin, nominative—ratio), “reckoning, understanding, motive, cause”; ratus (past participle of reri “to reckon, think… reason, count… to advise, read.”

“Sanity” is recorded from (about) 1380. The verb (about 1300) is from Old French, raisoner… “to discourse.” Originally “to question” (someone), sense of “employ reasoning (with someone)” is from 1847, and that of “to think in a logical manner” is from 1593. Phrase it stands to reason is from 1632. Age of Reason “the Enlightenment” is first recorded 1794, as the title of Tom Paine’s book.

Note the close ties with “understanding,” “count” (mathematics), “read” (how “reason” is passed from one person to another), “discourse” (speaking or writing), “reason with someone” (trying to persuade), “logic” (more follows here), and “The Age of Reason” (The Enlightenment). Right here in its etymology, the breadth of reason and rationalism are apparent.

Beyond the etymology, where does on go for a definition? Indeed, where does one go for any definition in philosophy? The problem of standard definitions (a canon, if you wil) is a major problem in philosophy that seems to be rarely addressed. It is presupposed that definitions are quite consistent among philosophers when I do not find that they are. Scott Oliphint is more forthright than most about his situation in his Preface to Reason for Faith.

There is no significant body of knowledge that is taken to be universally true with respect to the subject matter of philosophy. Surely, (it is a) fact that (this) discipline has had a few millennia to define itself, and has thus far not been successful….

Ronald Nash expresses the same idea:

Some people are surprised (and disappointed) to discover the frequency with which philosophers have difficulty coming up with a totally satisfactory analysis of fundamental concepts…. One can read a great many contemporary (or past—Ed) philosophic attempts to elucidate the notion of rationality and conclude that all of them fall short in one way or another…. Some philosophers simply appeal to the idea of rationality as what they call a “primitive notion.” What they mean by this move is that most people operate with a primitive understanding of rationality…. even if they (or their philosophy instructor) may be unable to produce a totally satisfactory definition of the term.[2]

The application of Oliphint and Nash’s statements would be a whole paper in itself, but the exploration of “reason” here will illustrate the differences among philosophers. What is not said is that without an understanding of rationality, nothing can be known!

Another major problem among philosophers is the lack of a glossary. Most philosophy books (or websites) have neither a Glossary nor a citation in their Index of their primary definitions. No wonder there is so much confusion in both secular and Christian philosophy! Again, the following exploration of “reason” will illustrate this problem. I defy any one person or group to take any two comprehensive dictionaries of philosophy and find significant coherence between the two!

Some Definitions of Reason

Antony Flew might be a good place to start. He has written A Dictionary of Philosophy that is worthwhile to consider in the investigation of words. He devotes one column of one page (two columns to a page) to “reason.” The following is a summary of that discussion.

A word used in many, various, often vague senses and sometimes obscure connections one with another…. Contrasted with imagination, experience, passion, or faith… Practical reason has since Aristotle been distinguished from theoretical or discursive reason.

Flew notes that Hume contrasted reason with “passion.”

Passion (for Hume is) … every conceivable motive for action; while reason in a complementary sense, covered only inert and neutral appreciation of what in fact is the case and what follows from what.

Flew continues.

Three categories of reason are to be distinguished: (1) evidencing; (2) motivating; and (3) causally necessitating. A reason (1) for believing p is an item of evidence showing or tending to show that p is true. A reason (2) for doing something is a possible motive for that action … The reason (3) why the volcano erupted will be all the causes necessitating that eruption.

There are two things that are notable here. One is the description of “various,” “vague,” and “obscure.” Our goal here, however, is to be more precise or comprehensive, even as “reason” has a broad range of usage. The second follows from the first. Flew describes a least six different applications of “reason.” Thus, we begin to see the breadth of the concept.

Alvin Plantinga in Warranted Christian Belief states that

Taken narrowly, reason is the faculty or power whereby we form a priori beliefs, beliefs that are prior to experience or, better, independent, in some way, of experience. These beliefs include … first of all, simple truths of arithmetic and logic, such as 1 + 2 = 3 and if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, the Socrates is mortal … that nothing can be red all over and also green all over … that to be a person you must at least be potentially capable of forming beliefs and having ends or aims … that there are properties, states of affairs, propositions, and other abstract objects … that no object has a property in a possible world in which it does not exist … that obviously follow from deliverances of reason … and the power or capacity whereby we see or detect logical relationships among propositions.

Plantinga then goes on to cite “other faculties or rational powers,” such as, “induction,” “introspection,” “sympathy,” “testimony,” “credulity,” and “belief.”

What should be noted from Plantinga, as with Few, is the breadth of “reason.” Also, he not only uses the word “logic,” he identifies the syllogism, the law of excluded middle (red, not green), and “logical relationships.” He is making the link between reason, rationalism, and thought.

Gordon H. Clark provides a short definition of “reason” among these more extensive ones. He will provide a break and also a direction for a later course. “Reason may well be defined as logic.”[3] This brief statement may be startling to the reader. Thus, he may want to ponder it for a while or just skip to the latter portion of this paper where it will be explained in considerable detail.

Paul Helm in Faith and Reason begins with

The narrowest sense of reason equates it with the rules of logical inference, both inductive and deductive.… purely formal in character …. Reasoning in this sense starts from a premises or premisses, and derives, either deductively, or inductively, one or more conclusions. If the deduction is valid, if it is in accord with the rules of logic, then the conclusion is true if the premises are true; if the induction is valid, the conclusions render the conclusion probable…. The key to the use and power of such procedures … lies in the premisses…. So the crucial question … becomes: what sorts of premisses are admissible as far as logical arguments … are concerned?Secondly, reason may be used in a more substantive sense, referring to the accumulated wisdom of a tradition, particularly … the accumulated wisdom of the classical tradition. This is a more substantive sense of reason than that which confines it to inductive and deductive logical procedures because, unlike the appeal to deductive or inductive logic, the wisdom of the tradition expressed itself in certain core beliefs or attitudes, and certain ethical and intellectual virtues. Whereas the first sense of ‘reason’ is primarily logical and formal in character, this sense is primarily epistemological. That is, the received wisdom embodies claims to know certain things about the world…. Since a claim is made to know certain truths, the truths of reason, of the true philosophy, questions are inevitably raised about who such truths are known.

Now, we could continue with numerous philosophers and their concepts of reason, but we need to be more specific than just surveying the philosophical landscape. The astute reader will also note that the definitions above are quite broad and extensive.

Reason Is Rationalism Is Logic or R/R/L

Reason, rationalism, and logic are synonyms which I will designate as R/R/L. At first glance, this proposition may seem quite narrow. The word, “logic,” brings to mind the structured syllogism and perhaps informal fallacies, but logic is much more. Re-read the above authors and etymology of “reason.” The only action necessary to overcome this limited scope is to open any basic textbook on logic to its Table of Contents. There one finds definition, informal fallacies, premises and conclusions, uses of language, arguments in ordinary language, analogy, probability, induction, and other sections, depending upon the textbook. An expansion of these will develop our thesis that reason is logic, and logic is reason. We will work backwards in a sense, from what is apparently (but only apparently) more concrete to the less concrete.

(1) Logic is the formal syllogism of deduction. All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; Socrates is mortal. Here is not the place to discuss all the intricacies of this process, so only a few comments will be made. (A) The formal syllogism is the only process by which truth can be derived from other truth with absolute certainty. Everyone acquainted with basic logic knows that this derivation is called valid inference. True premises and valid inference become true conclusions—an apparently simply process! An invalid inference is also called a formal fallacy.

But, not so fast. The process may be simple, but the premises and the words that comprise them are anything but simple. For example, here is a syllogism deriving The Trinity.

All persons with the attributes of God are God.The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have the attributes of God.The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God.

The definitions of these terms: person, attributes, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been the subject of fierce debates, church splits, personal combat, church trials, The Inquisition, and wars between groups and nations—the shedding of blood and torture by the thousands. So, before one can even begin to construct a syllogism, one must define his terms.

But, again, I ask where in classical or modern philosophical (and theological) discussion does one finds definitions? Granted, there are often definitions given in the text, but glossaries of articles and books are uncommon. Thus, we must include definitions in our definition of logic.

(2) Definitions are crucial to logic. Without definitions, a logical syllogism cannot even be constructed. I will tentatively state that attention to, and explicit discussion of, definitions is the greatest sin of philosophy and theology.[4] This failure is a major factor to Oliphint’s statement above that “(this) discipline has had a few millennia to define itself, and has thus far not been successful.” I would propose that to define itself, authors in philosophy will have to work much harder to define their terms. (It is even possible that they could find some incoherence in their own thoughts.)

Words must be used univocally throughout an argument, short paper, or book unless clearly noted otherwise. Definitions would provide the reader with the tool by which to better understand the author and check for incoherence (one of the tests for truth).

(3) Words (definitions) are placed together to form propositions which must be grammatically correct. The more advanced philosophical student will notice at this point that we are getting into the philosophy of language. While some might see language as one branch of philosophy, I contend that it is central to any reasoning process at all. Without words and grammatically correct propositions, there is nothing for philosophy to discuss. Now, I am not advocating analysis that does not allow the whole to be different from the sum of its parts. That dictionaries have more than one definition for a word allows words to have different meanings in different contexts. However, within a reasoning process definitions must remain univocal to retain any meaning. Without univocality anything said is meaningless.

(4) Logic (reason) involves the avoidance and detection of informal fallacies. On the one hand, there seems to be no end to their numbers.

Only thirteen types of fallacies were listed by the first logician, Aristotle…. Fifty-one fallacies are “named, explained, and illustrated by W. Ward Fearnside and William B. Holther (Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument, 1959). To the best of my knowledge, the most comprehensive—or at least the most voluminous—list of fallacies is given by David Hackett Fischer in his book Historians’ Fallacies (1970). The index of fallacies in Fischer’s book contains 112 fallacies, but in the body of his book the discusses and names more than in his index.[5]

On the other hand, there seem to be a rather short list of fallacies that are common to both common speech and to formal discourse. Again, the purpose here is not to review those, but to place these items in our more comprehensive definition of logic. Those common fallacies can be found in any basic book on logic, such as the one cited, and in many places on the Internet.

(5) Logic involves inductive inference. Induction is empiricism. Empiricism is the process of making consistent observations about one thing or process and drawing general conclusions. This process results in conclusions of varying probability, according to the number, accuracy, and other techniques that are involved. Possibly the most important point here is that valid deduction of true propositions results in true conclusions; the best empirical method can only arrive at probabilities. Thus, induction cannot arrive at truth, unless one wants to define truth as “what is probable.” The scientific method is a form of empiricism with perhaps more detail to structure and formal design.[6]

(6) The laws of noncontradiction, excluded middle, and identity are central to logic and to language. The law of noncontradiction states that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time. The law of excluded middle means that a proposition is either true or false and not some meaning in between. The law of identity states that something cannot be other than what it is. These laws apply to both physical objects and immaterial propositions like “The Holy Spirit is God.” With physical objects, these laws are more complicated because every object has a large number of universal properties that make up its identity. However, these laws are easy to apply to simple propositions.

I would like tentatively to propose that all three of these laws be subsumed under the law of noncontradiction because a thing or proposition cannot be or mean more than one thing at once. This law can then be understood as oneness or unity. A proposition or thing is one with itself and not with anything else. This discussion takes us back to the importance of definition. Definitions identify what is included, and what must be excluded, that is, true or contradicted. If something is not clearly defined, it cannot clearly be known what its identity is or what would be a false representation of itself. This conclusion would seem to be in accord with Gordon Clark.

The point should be clear: One cannot write a book or speak a sentence that means anything without using the law of noncontradiction. Logic is an innate necessity, not an arbitrary convention that may be discarded at will… (All theories that depreciate or try to eliminate logic) … are self-refuting because they cannot be stated except by virtue of the law they repudiate.[7]

(7) Logic includes argument without a syllogism. Perhaps, this process is the most common both formally and informally. It involves a premiss, premisses, and a conclusion.

The news is what the press says it is.Therefore, journalists have a disproportionate influence in the process of selecting the issues around which public debate revolves.[8]

There is an unsaid premiss here. That is, the news determines the issues of a public debate. But this argument might be formal in speech or writing, or it could be just everyday discussion between two citizens.

Likely, all these arguments could be broken down into syllogisms, and our communication might be better off for it. However, this process would be cumbersome in everyday speech, and to a lesser extent, formal speech. But it is important to understand that the syllogism is the only method by which truth can be derived from truth. On important issues, I suggest that the formal syllogism be used more often.

(8) The more advanced and highly specialized logics are not important to reasoning and argument. There are numerous kinds of logic discussed at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (www. John Robbins comments in the Preface to Gordon Clark’s Logic.

Logic concerns all thought; it is fundamental to all disciplines, from agriculture to astronautics. There are not several kinds of logic, one for philosophy and one for religion; but the same rules of thought that apply in politics, for example, apply also in chemistry. Some people have tried to deny that logic applies to all subjects, for they wish to reserve some special field—theology and economics, to name two historical examples—as a sanctuary for illogical arguments. What results is called polylogism—many logics—which is really a denial of logic.But (even) in order to say that there are many different sorts of logic, one must use the rules of logic…. Let those who say there is another kind of logic express their views using that other logic. It is as though one were to claim that there are two (or more) sorts of arithmetic—the arithmetic in which two plus two equals four, and a second arithmetic in which two plus two equals twenty-two. Anyone who disparages or belittles logic must use logic in his attack, thus undercutting his own argument.”[9]

(9) Logic can have a mathematical certainty. At times logic makes use of the words “all,” and “none.” In the classical syllogism of Socrates and mortality (above), “all” is used. “All” is all—one-hundred percent—all. This term includes all in the universe without exception. That is mathematical certainty. None has the same force in the opposite direction—none in the universe—not one, anywhere. That is mathematical certainty by total exclusion. This certainty is lost when “some” or any other term denoting less than all or more than none (zero). But where “all” or “none” can be used, there is absolute certainty—assuming that the terms are accurate, the propositions are true, and that the inference is valid.

(10) Tests of truth should be included here—at least coherence should. Over the centuries, three tests of truth have come to be recognized. (A) Correspondence concerns the identity of a proposition to reality, that is, things as they really are. Of course, “what is real” is a determined by first principles (a position of faith). Since “knowing” what is “real” is an epistemological and metaphysical problem, it does not seem that correspondence will work as a test of truth because “truth” and “reality” are the same pursuit. That is, can one seek “truth” when one already has “reality” (truth) for measuring correspondence? (B) Coherence is applied to the internal consistency of one’s system. This process is the great application of R/R/L. (C) Pragmatism is similar to correspondence; it has a great deal to do with one’s predetermined views. Pragmatism is “what works.” By definition, God’s system of philosophy (systematic theology) and His ethics are going to be the most practical system. However, man is always trying to escape His system and may consider something anti-Biblical to “work,” like aborting an unborn child for some “convenient” reason. Again, the reasoning is similar to that of correspondence such that pragmatism does not seem to be an appropriate test of truth.

(11) “Logic” is often used colloquially. Someone may say, “It is only logical that I get up early to get the day off to a more productive start.” While this process does indeed involve steps that might be set up formally, it is only a general conclusion from observed facts or others’ opinion or a “reason” of some other sort. In formal writing and argumentation, authors and speakers need to be much more aware of the formal use of logic in the breadth that I have developed here. These colloquial reasons are perhaps where “reason” ought to be used instead of “logic.”

(12) All communication is teaching. This conclusion was formulated by Augustine in De Magistro (The Teacher). All communication except commands, questions, and exclamations is instruction. Reader, ponder this statement. It is true! Simple. When I meet you, and you ask, “How are you?” If I respond to the literal question, then I am teaching you about “how” I am. If two of us are discussing politics, we are trying to teach each other what our positions are and convince the other that we are right (make an argument). When communication is understood as a teaching process, the importance of accuracy is brought to the fore.

Related Issues: Truth, Innate Ability

There are related issues that must be discussed to place reason and logic in its proper context.

Reason is a process and evaluation, not a determinant of truth. Reader, pause and reflect on what that simple proposition means. The debate of the centuries has been wrongly framed. Reason involves determining if good, delimiting definitions have made, that grammatically correct proposition have been constructed, that definitions are consistently univocal, that valid syllogisms have been constructed, that solid evidence has been accumulated for induction, and that the many other processes briefly described above have been applied. Reason is an applied science; reason is applied to validity of argument, not the formulation of first principles—which is the means by which truth is accepted.

Reason and logic have no—zip, zero, nada, zilch—input as to the particulars of what is defined or what argument is made. It does not determine which propositions are to be constructed or the terms chosen in the propositions. These decisions are made outside the purpose and structure of sound reasoning. Reason only gives guidance and instructions on the process.

Let us look briefly at the first principles of some philosophers. René Descartes was the first rationalist of the modern era. In his “I think; therefore I am,” he left out the major premise of his syllogism, “If I think, then I exist.” Even so, this choice of first principles was clarity to his own mind, a personal choice, not a force of reason.[10] Augustine of Hippo chose “I believe in order to understand.” Anselm of Canterbury chose his ontological argument. Thomas Aquinas chose the cosmological argument. The “light of nature” caused four different, great philosophers to choose four different first principles. (Augustine may have been an exception, as he understood revelation vs. “the light of nature.”) Reason and logic cannot explain this difference, but faith can.

These four philosophers started with different first principles (faith). Synonyms of first principles include presuppositions, axioms, premises, starting points, and basic beliefs. Ah! The last term points in the right direction—beliefs, that is faith. By definition, first principles do not have to be proved. R/R/L is a method of proof. Thus, first principles (faith) are prior to proof, so R/R/L are not involved in these personal choices. Now, R/R/L are involved in the evaluation of one’s first principles. For first principles are only that—first and a priori. A system must be constructed on those first principles that will cover all the issues of life (and death). A system that does not address all the issues of life is inconsistent, and ultimately irrational or non-sensical.

So, positing faith vs. reason is ill-conceived and false. The debate should be over how first principles are chosen and their derived systems. First principles are chosen; thus systems are chosen. Choices are issues of faith. R/R/L do not apply until those faith-choices are made.

Or, to look at this same process in another way, every person has to have a starting point. Again, by definition, everyone has to start somewhere. That is what a starting point is. But R/R/L have no part in that starting point. Starting points may include a life crisis, a search for “meaning,” a comparison of religions, or making philosophy one’s life study. Of course, as one begins to evaluate more fully his choice, the criteria of coherence, correspondence, and pragmatic values begin to invade the thinking process. The original starting point eventually becomes a first principle.

There is a feed-back loop or interdependency here. Starting points are evaluated on the basis of reason and logic; that process challenges or affirms the starting point and leads to first principles. As the system is constructed, the feedback continues as a coherent system is built.

What can we conclude then? (1) R/R/L are not involved in the choice of starting points or first principles except to provide additional reasons for choices. This act is one of faith, based upon personal choices. All systems are properly basic as fideism. (2) R/R/L is involved in developing a structure or system upon one’s first principles for coherence, correspondence, pragmatic value, and ethics.

Other examples that illustrate this personal choice are competing religions. Among the theistic religions of the world, each has their fully trained and educated advocates. The imam of Islam spends his entire life studying the Koran and worshipping Allah. The rabbi does the same with the Torah and Yahweh. The pastor has his Scriptures and the Trinity. Who would challenge that each of these is thoroughly knowledgeable of his faith and of his god? Who would deny that a detailed, rational system has been worked out consistent with their first principles? And those within their faiths would certainly not say that a coherent and ethical system has not been worked out over centuries, at least as far as traditional orthodox has determined. But they all differ! They study different “bibles.” (The Torah is different because it is incomplete when compared to the Bible.) They are all using R/R/L to the best of their ability. Yet they differ! Why? They differ simply on the basis of first principles, but they all virtually the same processes of R/R/L.

Theoretical vs. practical reason. This distinction is common to philosophy. Theoretical reason applies to the “higher” questions of truth, reality, epistemology, metaphysics, etc. Practical reason concerns “what is one to do” (ethics). There are two comments relative to this distinction. (1) There is an interdependence of the two issues. For example, if one chooses Islam “theoretically,” then his “oughts” have already been chosen for him. (2) The rules and laws of reason are the same for both spheres. The law of noncontradiction applies to both theoretical and practical reasons. While their spheres of application differ (though interdependent), there is no one set of laws for theoretical reason and one for practical reason. There is only one set for both, applied to the distinguished areas.

Scientism vs. Faith. The modern context often sets (natural) science against “faith.” The traditional opposition has been empiricism vs. rationalism. As we are seeing, however, both empiricism and rationalism are adopted as first principles, and therefore are themselves positions of faith. So there is no conflict between science and faith, when each is properly understood. Interestingly, there is a shift of debate here. Scientism is empiricism—both as first philosophies or epistemologies. So, traditionally there has been the debate between faith and reason, there is now the debate between faith and empiricism (science or scientism). So, faith—based upon Special Revelation—has had to take on all epistemologies. As we are seeing here, that is not a problem for Biblical faith, properly understood in the vagaries, inconsistencies, and irrationalism of philosophers.

Reason is innate, intuitive. The ability to reason and to communicate is the primary, and perhaps exclusive, image of God in man. All the elements discussed above are necessary for reason and communication. Because man is finite and because he is fallen, he makes mistakes—serious mistakes—in these two areas. The wonder is that communication takes place as well as it does. Likely, this effectiveness is due to every person having an innate understanding and ability for reason and communication. But one must take the apparent efficacy of everyday reason to a more formal application when it comes to theoretical reason. The laws of logic, definition, and proposition and syllogism construction must be learned and applied more rigorously, for these are indeed matters of life, death, and pleasing God.

The process of reason is no different for the regenerate and the unregenerate. There are no special laws or understanding of reason for the believer and the unbeliever in the Christian sense. Regeneration is a change of value and ethics—from trusting in one’s own reason to trusting in the reason and values of God’s Special Revelation. (See Regeneration.)

What About Truth?

The four philosophers named above cannot all be true according to the law of noncontradiction—R/R/L. It is interesting that philosophers generally have the same definition of truth: “what is.” The great problem is identifying what is the “what is.” It is quite obvious that neither philosopher nor religious believers have ever been able to arrive at common agreement on the “true” philosophy or religions after centuries of detailed and vigorous debate (to the point of bloodshed and warfare) over what is true. So, for all the intricacies of R/R/L, these issues have never been resolved in spite of the fact that the principles of logic (more or less as I have outlined them) are more universally agreed upon.

The problem is that “what is” truth is a personal choice—a personal belief (faith). That is, what I am willing to accept as truth is determined by my faith, not by any of the means of logic. So, again, reason does not determine first principles (faith). So, the conflict is not between faith and reason but between faiths.[11] That is the reason that the competing issues have never been resolved. Faith issues cannot be resolved because they are personal choices. The necessary question that follows is “Why do personal choices differ so widely?” The answer is not the focus of this paper except that those explanations would be personal choices—a position of faith—as well because they would involve anthropology—the philosophical or religious concept of man. Our focus here is to outline what is R/R/L and related issues. Belief does not determine truth, reality or “what is” does. But what a person is willing to accept as truth is determined by faith. Faith is no more than one’s unproven presuppositions, first principles, or first philosophy. All philosophical and religious systems are faith positions. (See here.)

“Mere Human Logic”

This phrase seems to be increasing in its use among evangelical speakers and writers. Unfortunately, if followed with consistency, Christianity becomes impossible either to understand or to be coherent. Review all that has been presented here. Then, consider. (1) R/R/L is the very fabric of language communication, and there is no other form of communication! (2) Who structured human language—God Himself! “Mere human logic” is God’s design for human language and communication. To call it “mere” is to deprecate God. He does not create “mere”; He creates great and glorious. R/R/L are great and glorious!

At least one origin of this claim seems to be several systematic theology texts. These theologians seem to have the right intent to take a solid stand for the omniscience of God and the infinite extent to which His mind and understanding exceeds that of man. I have no quarrel to give God his highest glory in wisdom. However, He has created us in His own image. God chose language and its necessary structure for communication. He pushes His people to understand as much as they are able with His Special Revelation as the basis and limiting factor for knowledge and truth (Romans 12:2; Colossians 1:9, 2:2). “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). By this statement, an incredible amount of knowledge is needed to be able to obey Him! By this statement, also, an entire system of ethics is named (“this law”).

There would be no hermeneutics, and thus no interpretation of Scripture, without logic! In R. C. Sproul’s book, Knowing Scripture, Chapter Four, he presents ten rules of hermeneutics—none of which are clearly stated from Scripture. On my worldview website, I have added 13 more rules, none of which are clearly stated in Scripture. In fact, what may be the most important hermeneutic, the analogy of Scripture—that Scripture must interpret itself where possible is not stated in Scripture. All these are logically derived from Scripture, as the Westminster fathers designed in Chapter 1, Section 6, of their Confession of Faith: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”

So, “mere human logic” should be changed to “the great logic of God is His image in man. For more on this subject, see this article.[12] Oh, by the way, there would be no one word, “Trinity,” for the three Persons of the Godhead without logic.

Logos of God

The great prologue of Chapter One of the Book of John in the New Testament centers on the Second Person of the Trinity as the Logos. Liddell and Scott in their Greek-English Lexicon use five pages of fine print in double columns to define and discuss logos. This breadth and depth is consistent with Who and What the Second Person of the Trinity is. John Calvin translates the word as “Speech” in his commentary on John. What is speech? Speech is the intended communication of the Second Person of the Trinity to all people—the regenerate and unregenerate (John 1:9). As we have seen, communication is impossible without R/R/L. Some Christians and theologians (including Calvin) have fretted and taken offense at “In the beginning was the Logic…” However, (1) this one word is perhaps the best one to substitute for logos. (2) Any Christian may work at choosing their own word, or more likely words, for logos in the lexicon of Liddell and Scott. What about using more than one word, “In the beginning was truth, knowledge, wisdom and reason? (For more on this subject, see here.)

The Relevance of Truth and Knowledge to Logic

Logic does have a quirk—one can reason consistently with all logical principles and still arrive at falsehoods. This fact is most obvious in the classical syllogism. “All men are immortal. Socrates is a man. Socrates is mortal.” This syllogism is valid! But it is false. We can see this sequence in human embryology. “Ontogeny recapitulates philology. Philology is the evolution of animals to humans. Human beings evolved and are animals.” This syllogism is a little “rough,” but is valid and untrue. The point here is the issue of what is and is not truth has origins outside of logic. Do not miss the import of this statement. It confirms what we have already said above, the longstanding debate between reason (and logic) is falsely contrived. R/R/L are principles to apply to knowledge, not the source of knowledge. (See below.)

A recent evangelical book from one of the most conservative Christian organizations in America misses this very point. Joel McDurmon in Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice[13] states, “Logic is the systematic study and practice of discerning and telling the truth.” (Italics are his.) Wrong! As I have stated, logic involves tools that work with knowledge that is already present. Logic does not even “discern” itself. Try proving the law of noncontradiction. How many different ways can you say that something cannot be true and false at the same time? The law of noncontradiction is true because it is true. It is the most fundamental rule of logic (perhaps the sum of all other rules) which is not true by universal agreement, but true because it is true. If a reader is crying, “Circular argument, circular argument,” then he needs to go back to a class on philosophy which teaches that first principles do not require proof. Statements of first principles and their derived systems can only be circular because they are not and cannot be proven. They only compete with other first principles and their systems.

This truth is perhaps the most important one relative to understanding how truth is derived and what logic does. Here is not the place to discuss epistemology—what is knowledge and how do we know it? For those who may be having a difficult time digesting these briefly presented issues, just re-read the prior paragraph, and perhaps some others that preceded it or study some basics of epistemology. Logic works on knowledge (truth) already present; it does not derive it except as formal deduction. Logic is involved in the testing of internal coherence of a system of knowledge (truth), its correspondence to the reality presented by that system, and its practical value. By derivation, it may make new statements using the knowledge already present that sheds additional light on what is understood (as deduction does to the truths of Scripture). But logic does not determine first principles and therefore does not determine truth. Faith, belief, presuppositions, axioms, and all the other synonyms for first principles determine what a person is willing to accept as true.

The Law of Noncontradiction and the Unity of God

I would like to propose that the law of noncontradiction comes from the essence of God. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” The Trinity is three Persons in One. God is and there is no other. Philosophers over the ages and at present seem fairly consistent on the aseity of God—that He is simple essence and unity. God is, and there is no other. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. He is all in all.

Now, I do not want to encroach on the distinction between God and His creation—that encroachment would be heresy. However, God’s creation flows from Himself. It was spoken into being—note the Speech of Calvin and the logos, the word(s) of God. God “spoke” everything into being. Creation came out of the mind of God. We could say that God’s aseity is presented in His creation, as well as His own being. Do not philosophers speak of the unity of all things as substance, essence, etc.? I have even written an article that demonstrates how all the principles of theology and philosophy have a oneness about them that reflects their origin in God’s unity.[14]

God cannot be other than what He is. Created things, including persons, cannot be other than what they are. That is, none of these things can be contradicted by any other things. They cannot exist as an excluded middle. They cannot be identified as other than what they are. They cannot be defined other than by what is known of them. If what is stated about them is true, then they are no involved in a fallacy. Logical deductions made about them still represent what they are. If universal induction were possible, then true conclusions could be drawn about them. And so on.


What is logic? Logic is denoted in the Table of Contents of a standard textbook on logic (at least one printed before 1980). Logic is reason and rationalism, and reason and rationalism are logic—R/R/L. R/R/L are applied to knowledge and belief that already exists based upon first principles—a foundation that is personal choice, not determined by R/R/L. There is no conflict between faith and reason—that never has been, and there never will be—except where the two are misunderstood as to their own definitions.

Summary Principles

  1. Reason, rationalism (as a process, not a philosophy), and logic are synonymous which I have designated R/R/L. R/R/L includes formal deduction, the laws of logic, informal fallacies, definitions, grammar, informal arguments, induction, the tests of truth, and all the other ways that words, propositions, and arguments can be constructed.
  2. Belief is prior to reason; reason only derives conclusions from known beliefs, or knowledge already present in one’s mind. Augustine had this order right: “I believe in order to understand.” Also, Anselm stated that he had “faith seeking understanding.” Reason is applied after beliefs are chosen.
  3. Truth is “what is.” Truth determines itself. What a person is willing to accept as true depends upon their beliefs, not their reason. Reason may test the coherence of their belief and contrast it with other beliefs.
  4. Thus, there is no conflict between faith and R/R/L. This debate over the centuries has been wrongly understood.
  5. An area of R/R/L in which philosophers could do much better is their use of definitions. That there is no “canon” of philosophy demonstrates powerfully that philosophy has no answers, only questions (for which they will not seek Biblical solutions).
  6. Most, if not all “modern” logics, are neither necessary nor useful to communication and argumentation.
  7. All communication except commands, exclamations, and questions is teaching or instruction.
  8. There is an interrelationship between faith and R/R/L. While faith or first principles are a priori, R/R/L can be used to evaluate the relationship of those beliefs to other personal beliefs or the beliefs of others. Then, other “properly basic beliefs” may be chosen. But, again, those first principles are a priori.
  9. R/R/L is innate or intuitive in varying degrees in every person, as the primary dimension of the image of God in man.
  10. The term, “mere human logic,” depreciates God as the logos and the image of God in man.
  11. The rules of hermeneutics would not exist without R/R/L. Thus, one would not be able to understand or reason its truth without R/R/L.
  12. The meaning of logos needs to be more widely investigated and become central in theology. Logos is central to communication of God to man in Revelation and man to God in prayer. R/R/L may not be the entire meaning of logos, but certainly its pleroma.
  13. The law of noncontradiction summarizes the law of excluded middle and the law of identity. It is perhaps the aseity of God Himself.
  14. Christian education is incomplete without a developed course in R/R/L in all the breadth outlined herein.


[1] See the section on faith in my Table of Contents.
[2] Faith and Reason, 75.
[3] Religion, Reason, and Revelation, 110.
[4] Is faulty reasoning a sin? Most definitely. “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” That is a moral declaration, as well as a factual one. Gordon Clark has said that faulty reasoning is the theologians greatest sin. Perhaps, if more theologians thought of faulty reasoning as a sin, there would be fewer errors. I am aware of my own limitations, even as I make the application to others. Reasoning is never perfect, but knowing that imperfect reasoning is a sin might drive us harder to be more accurate.
[5] Copi, Logic, 98.
[6] There is no one scientific method. See Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science.
[7] Gordon Clark, Christian Philosophy, 208.
[8] Copi, Logic, 7.
[9] John Robbins, “Why Study Logic,” in Gordon H. Clark, Logic, vi-vii.
[10] I have since come to realize that Descartes’ sound reason was actually his understanding of God, not the famous Cogito. See here.
[11] This position is one that has been greatly misunderstood of Gordon Clark. He has been widely slandered as a “rationalist,” when his rationalism only applies to his first principle—the truth of the Scriptures—and his evaluation of other thinkers.
[13] Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2009. This book has some hints of being hastily edited and printed. It is narrowly focused on “fallacies” which constitute only one area of logic.