Theology in 3D

Is God Bound by Logic?

Layton Talbert | August 3, 2018

Here’s a recap of the email I’m in the middle of trying to answer:

I have been reading Alvin Plantinga’s argument against the problem of evil. He was arguing that it is impossible for God to give people free will and still make it impossible for them to choose evil. If they cannot choose evil, they do not have free will. I like the argument. But I have two problems…

2. We often argue for God’s existence by saying that nothing can be outside of him. For example, God is the unmoved mover because if someone created God, then God would not be God. But doesn’t that argument militate against Plantinga here? If God cannot do something that is logically inconsistent then doesn’t that imply that logic is something even God must bow to? And if God must bow to logic, then God wouldn’t really be God, would He? 

It’s not that I think 2 is a real problem…., but I want to know epistemologically why that is. Because based on what we say, it shouldn’t be logically ridiculous.

I addressed Problem 1 (Does God have free will, and if not how can he create creatures that do?) in the last post. Now for Problem 2.

God’s inability to be illogical (which is not the same as paradoxical) is not due to any compulsion to conform to some extrinsic reality (“Logic”) but to act in keeping with his own intrinsic nature. God’s nature defines reality and, for that matter, logic. If that seems circular, welcome to the real world of logic.

God creates not only all (other) things, but the nature of all those things. Logic isn’t something outside God to which he must conform, any more than righteousness or compassion is; it is an extension of his own being and character that we have the capacity to appreciate and reflect because he has built it into humanity (how we think) and this world (how it operates). So is God bound by logic? In the same sense that he is “bound” by righteousness or by love, yes; those are all part of his nature and he is “bound” to act according to his own nature. But in the sense that logic or righteousness or love is some universal quality external to God to which he is compelled to submit, no. God is not bound by logic; God is logic.

My response to the objection (“If God cannot do something that is logically inconsistent…”) would be that God does lots of things that are, to us, logically inconsistent. The disputes between Calvinists, Arminians, and Amyraldians generally tend to revolve around logical (in)consistencies. That logical inconsistency arises not because the reality is inherently illogical, but because we simply don’t have at our disposal all the facts of how it works. That’s why I like to argue that God is supralogical, or even (as a friend once suggested) theological. That doesn’t mean that God’s logic is different than ours but infinitely fuller and more informed because he alone has all the facts. So the solution to the objection, in my opinion, is to focus not on God’s omnipotence (what he “can” or “cannot” do) but on God’s omniscience (what he knows and we don’t), and ultimately on God’s character (what he does or doesn’t, and will or won’t, do based on who he is and what he is like).

Let me try an analogy or two. It’s like a chemistry teacher who explains a few basic principles and properties to you, then does something in the lab that ought to be impossible based on what he’s told you; then he explains some additional principle that he hasn’t told you yet that makes it all make sense. Or, like C. S. Lewis’s geometrical analogy for the Trinity. A cube makes no sense in a world of only two dimensions (length and height); it’s a logical “impossibility.” But add a third dimension (depth) and it’s not only possible but completely sensible. We are so accustomed to thinking in our three-dimensional world, that what we call “logically impossible” is actually perfectly logical once you factor in a fourth, or fifth, or sixth dimension. (Bill Watterson once drew a great Calvin & Hobbes strip depicting the frustration that results when Calvin “transfers” himself to the two-dimensional world of one of his own drawings; it’s an amusing cartoon plot and an imaginative illustration of our limitations in the context of realities much larger than we perceive.)

At least part of the problem is our tendency to limit God’s revelation by our imagination. I’m not saying that imagination is the solution; the solution is simply to believe God’s words (all of them). But a little imagination can help resolve the tensions we feel trying to figure out an infinite God with our limited minds in a finite world. That’s why I love Abraham’s outside-the-box thinking in Heb 11:17-19. He was so doggedly confident that God would do exactly (and literally) what he said, that he was willing to obey a seemingly contradictory word from God, reasoning (imagining, we may say) that God would find some way of reconciling the two, even if it meant doing something utterly unprecedented and (nearly) unimaginable—like raising Isaac from the dead. (What Abraham didn’t do was assume that God’s original promise would have to be reinterpreted in some metaphorical way that he hadn’t originally understood.)

P.S. The imagination factor is one reason I am intrigued by the film Interstellar. Musically, much of it reminds me of God because of its patient, spacious vastness—as if we have all infinity and eternity to get through this (which is how long some people think the movie lasts; it’s actually 20 minutes longer than the seemingly interminable, sparsely dialogued 2001). Conceptually, it assumes that time is not linear as though we can plot every event on a single, two-dimensional line moving through space; rather, it is dimensional. Suppose time, as a dimension, could actually fold over on itself; that would mean (theoretically) that it would be possible to be in two (or multiple) places at once. Or to be at the same place in different times. Or even in multiple places at once, or multiple times in the same place. This would not be my “explanation” of God’s omnipresence or eternality, because (a) I don’t know what I’m talking about, and (b) I don’t know if the way I imagine it is the reality. But it at least gives me some mental “room” to appreciate how God’s omnipresence and eternality are real. Imagination is, after all, a gift of God and surely a capacity that is the result of our creation in the imago Dei.

Photo Credit: Isaac Talbert

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