Is God Subject to Logic?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Over the past couple years of blogging, one of the most common areas of confusion in the blog comments has been about the relationship between logic and God.  Did God create logic like he created humans?  Did logic exist before God, so that God is subject to logic?  Can’t God do away with the laws of logic?  Can’t he violate the laws of logic?

The first thing we need to do is define what logic is.  A simple definition of logic is “the study of right reason.”  The foundation of right reason is embodied in three laws of logic that are undeniable.

The law of non-contradiction states that a thing cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense.

The law of excluded middle states that a thing is either A or non-A.

The law of identity states that if a thing is A, then it is A.

All logic, and thus all right reasoning, is built off of these three laws.  They are undeniable.

So now to the question.  Are these laws subject to God or is God subject to them?

The answer is that the laws of logic are part of the nature of God.  In other words, logic is built into God.  He did not create logic like he created humans, but neither did logic exist as some sort of entity outside of God.  Since God has always existed, and the laws of logic are based in God, then the laws of logic have always existed as well.

Can God violate the laws of logic?  No, because he cannot not be himself.  Whatever God is, he is eternally.  God does not shut down various attributes of his being, like cutting off lights in different parts of the house.  God is logical, he always has been logical, and he always will be logical.

Someone might object, “Doesn’t this mean God is limited by logic?”  This objection has always struck me as strange because logic is synonymous with rationality.  Is God limited to being rational?  Well yes, in the same way he is “limited” by his goodness, or his beauty, or his holiness.  God is never evil, ugly, or unholy; likewise, God is never illogical or irrational.

It is extremely important to note that humans could never know anything about God without the laws of logic.  Without the laws of logic, God could exist and not exist, God could not be God, God could be good and non-good (evil), and so forth on and on.  Logic is essential to our knowing God.  Christians who denigrate logic are, in effect, denigrating the foundational tools that we have to know anything about God.

Another objection that has been raised is that since God can do the impossible, then when we say he cannot be illogical, then we are saying he cannot do the impossible.  The misunderstanding comes from the word impossible.  Biblically, God may do what is impossible for human beings to do, but the Bible does not say that God can do what is logically impossible.

For example, objectors may argue, “God can raise people from the dead, but that’s impossible!”  Well, that’s impossible for humans, but it’s not logically impossible.  There is a big difference between the two.

In summary, logic is built into God as part of his nature, so God is not subject to logic as if logic is some force outside of him.  But he is “subject” to logic because he cannot deny himself.

  • Confused

    If “the laws of logic are part of the nature of God,” then I take it that you do not believe in creation ex nihilo. If logic is uncreated, at least part of creation is made of God. Are you advocating a form of panentheisism? Do tell more.

  • Jeff

    I think he is saying that Logic is a part of God’s Nature. Panthiesm would indicate that God and Logic are equal, and I don’t see that being said here. What Bill says is that God cannot not be himself, i.e. not God, thus logic is implied. You argue with yourself by saying “if logic is uncreated”, then stating it is part of the creation. God’s nature existed and exists eternally as God has and does – thus Logic being part of his nature – it has always existed – it is uncreated – a mute point. It cannot be uncreated and part of creation – supporting Bill’s laws of logic. I believe that God created everything from nothing and from reading Bill’s post, I don’t see anything that would disagree with that point.

  • Bill Pratt

    Confused,
    Creation ex nihilo refers to the creation of the physical time-space universe. The laws of logic are not part of the physical time-space universe.

  • Confused

    Bill: So is everything that is not physical a part of God’s nature? Are you advocating a form of Platonism? Are Platonic forms more real that physical items since they are ‘part of the nature of God?’ Do atheist who knows logic know God?

    Jeff: Panentheisism is slightly different from Pantheism. In Panentheisism, the world is a part of god, not the totality of god.

  • Bill Pratt

    No, everything that is not physical is not part of God’s nature. My view of God is Thomistic, so I fall right in line with classical Christian theology.

  • “Confused,” from the tone and content of your responses, it seems to me that you have a pretty settled idea about these matters, and that you think Bill is probably in violation of these principles.
    If that is true, I would be very interested in hearing your take on the matter before us.

    What is your understanding of the relationship of God and Logic? Or, in what I think is a more common version of the same dilemma, the relationship of God and good?

    Is something good because God approves of it, leaving the possibility that He may approve of things we think quite evil? Or is God good because He is aligned with some external and absolute standard of goodness? If so, from whence does that standard arise in that it compels God, and wouldn’t that entity be the true prime cause, since it constrains and limits the actions of the one we call “God” ?

    With Logic, is anything God does only de jure logical, or is it de facto logical; if so, from what does it originate that orders the behavior of God?

  • Confused

    Bill:

    Thanks. That clears everything.

  • Confused

    Eric:
    At first I was going to say that I am not settled. After thinking through my reply, I think I am settled; though, I would still like to hear a justification of Bill’s position.

    So, I think the question is: ‘How is God’s logic related to our logic?’ OR ‘How is God’s good related to our good?”

    To which, I would answer: Man’s logic looks to God’s logic. Logic in this world is an ‘imprint’ of God’s logic. The relationship is analogous.

    It seems that identifying logic in this world, with God’s logic makes God entirely immanent and raises a host of other questions.

    After replying yesterday, I found this quote
    “Human logic is grounded in the very nature of God. Because human logic is *based* on God’s nature…. Although humans are finite creatures, and although God’s nature and His actions ultimately *transcend* our abilities, it is still possible for us to know God and to talk about Him.”
    [p. 316 Thomas A Howe]
    http://books.google.com/books?id=yipXIHcteRsC&lpg=PA316&ots=Z_lXbU5jwr&dq=%22laws%20of%20logic%22%20%22nature%20of%20God%22&pg=PA316#v=onepage&q=%22laws%20of%20logic%22%20%22nature%20of%20God%22&f=false

    St Thomas has this to say regarding goodness. “Everything is therefore called good from the divine goodness, as from the first exemplary effective and final principle of all goodness. Nevertheless, everything is called good by reason of the *similitude* of the divine goodness belonging to it, which is formally its own goodness, whereby it is denominated good. And so of all things there is one goodness, and yet many goodnesses. ”
    [I, quest. 6, art. 5]
    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1006.htm#article4

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  • You’ll have to excuse a poor scholar. I’ve never read Thomas (or precious little else!), but what I have read of him fits pretty well with what I believe, so those who taught me must have been pretty well grounded there.

    The only quibble I would have, and I think it a very minor one, is whether there is a difference between God’s logic and man’s logic (or God’s good and man’s good). If logic is inherently valid, and arises from the character and nature of God, then how can there be “another” logic? I can understand man having an incomplete or erroneous understanding and application, but it is still only valid in that it conforms to the one true standard of God. I suppose I would reject the word “analogous,” and substitute “derivative.”

    I certainly understand how the existence of logic is an imprint of the Divine logic. I fancy that anything made bears some resemblance to the maker, some “tool marks” that are characteristic of that craftsman (the “plural unity” of Trinity is my pet example). In fact, the existence of logic would be one of the ways a transcendent God may be at least partially known, or known about, as Paul described in Romans. I appreciate the way you tied it to his immanence as well!

    If I understand the quote from the “summa” correctly, Thomas is saying much the same thing; that what we see as “Good” is only actually good in that it conforms to the divine goodness. Since I don’t think our goodness arises independently, that would fit what I called “derivative.” I would say that there is one Goodness, and yet many partial understanding of that goodness, which we think complete.

  • Bill Pratt

    Eric,
    Maybe one way to think about this is that God is perfectly logical, meaning that all of his thoughts perfectly follow the laws of logic. God never makes logical errors. Men, however, are not perfectly logical. We make numerous mistakes and are, in fact, often illogical and thus irrational. Likewise God is perfectly good, whereas our good is flawed and imperfect.

  • Raphael

    Eric,

    I think an analogy of a mirror will enlighten you on this point; no pun intended.

    Why there is God’s logic and man’s logic, is because man and God are not the same item; if they were, that is the belief of panentheism/pantheism (depending on the aspect of origin).

    Hence, man’s faculty of logic is distinct from God’s faculty, even though the former derives its powers from the latter. In abstract terms, both logics would be identical; in embodied terms, however, they are different.

    God’s logic is like the sun; man’s logic is like the mirror that reflects the light of the sun’ Christ’s logic is like the Moon.

  • saint_sinner

    do you mean to say that God co-exist with LOGIC?

  • Bill Pratt

    Logic, or rationality, is part of God’s nature.

  • If the classical laws of logic depend upon God for their
    existence, then the classical laws of logic must not apply to God. If
    they did, this would be like a mother giving birth to her mother, a
    ceiling supporting itself in the air, or an effect causing itself or the
    cause of its parent cause.

    Since the law of the excluded middle would not apply to God: any
    statement about God, as well as its negation, may both be true. So,
    “God exists,” and “God does not exist,” may both be true. Demonstrating
    “God exists,” would fail to imply that “God does not exist,” is false.

    Since the law of non-contradiction would not apply to God:
    contradictory statements about God may be true. Therefore, “God exists
    and does not exist,” may be true.

    Since the law of identity would not apply to God: God may be other than, or not, God.

    If this variant of the transcendental argument for the existence
    of God is accurate, any attempt to think rationally about God proves
    itself absurd. This, of course, includes any and all logical arguments
    for the existence of God, including this variant of the transcendental
    argument for the existence of God. It would also render all other claims
    made concerning God meaningless.

  • You don’t understand Christian theology, I’m afraid. Logic is built into God’s nature. God is logic. To say that logic does not apply to God would be like saying God does not apply to God. You cannot separate God from any of his attributes.

  • well then thats a god i can live with! but that God doesnt seem to have anything to do with the one in the Bible unfortunately for you

  • A quick reading of the Bible will show anyone that logic is not built into god’s framework. God’s indecisive, cruel, petty, indifferent and tinkering. And his master plan is to have an underage girl give birth to himself, so that he can sacrifice himself, to himself, to protect us from himself. If that’s the essence of logic, go figure.

  • Alex

    You said “In summary, logic is built into God as part of his nature, so God is not subject to logic as if logic is some force outside of him. But he is “subject” to logic because he cannot deny himself.” What is your evidence for this conclusion? It seems you have made an assertion without sufficient proof. What is your proof for the premise that God’s nature is logical?

    Do you mean to say that it is impossible for God’s nature to be above logic? If so, wouldn’t your declaration of this impossibility be based on logic – the very thing which you are trying to prove? If God’s nature were above logic, it would be above your logic-based reasoning (when you try to use logic to prove that God’s nature is grounded in logic.)
    Do you have specific scriptural references where God reveals that his nature is logical? If God’s nature were above logic, then even this scripture would not wholly apply.
    I think you have deemed God logical so that you can pretend to understand God. But, using logic, you cannot prove that God “above” logic, even if none of us knows what that means.

  • Alex

    last sentence – But, using logic, you cannot prove that God is not “above” logic, even if none of us knows what that means.

  • Ted Grant

    This is an interesting topic, but it seems to me that Bill cannot know such intimate details about this person called “God” when it is clear to me that nobody has yet verified that he or she exists. I submit that Bill has no knowledge of God other than the imaginings of bronze-age scribblers, who didn’t even know that the earth is spherical and thought that there will be a time when all the stars will fall to earth and that mental illness is caused by demonic possession. I also submit that his “knowledge” of God’s attributes is based on his wishful thinking. He likes to think that God has such and such pleasing features and therefore states that God in fact does have these features. I suspect that God, if he or she exists, is a far more surprising entity than anyone likes to imagine,

  • Discovering Religion

    The Law of Conservation is a property of the Universe. In other words, this law defines how the Universe behaves — another name for the Universe’s nature — and by logic this nature cannot be violated. In much the same way, the definition of what makes a square a square or a circle a circle cannot be violated.

    A square is an object with four equal sides that form right angles. In contrast, a circle is a round object whose circumference consists of points equidistance from the center. Anything that does not adhere to the definition of a square or a circle cannot be called so. A square, a circle, a human, and even a universe, can never be anything other than what they are.

    This means creation ex nihilo is a logical contradiction that cannot exist. The conservation of matter and energy is a property of the Universe’s nature, and to violate this nature would be to violate the Law of Non-Contradiction: to make the nature of the Universe something other than what it is. But as we agree, god cannot do the logically impossible, like creating square circles. A universe where matter and energy are conserved cannot be created from nothing, for that would serve to make A not A, which is a logical contradiction. This means the Universe has always existed in one form or another. God cannot be responsible for creating the Universe, because the Universe was never created.

  • sean

    What is it that lets you know God has logic built into him? It doesn’t seem to be in the Bible, at least not explicitly. It seems to me, as someone who’s admittedly less familiar with scripture than you, that it wouldn’t be contradictory to the idea of god for laws of logic to exist independently of God. I mean these are axiomatic definitions. It would seem to me that you couldn’t make a square circle in a universe that was made by God or one that wasn’t, and I don’t know that that would diminish the power of a God in my eyes just because he canto make square circles and it’s because of something beyond him, which is that’s how definitions work. I’m very curious about this.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Sean, I think they need to make logic part of God/God’s nature, because if they allow that logic exists independently of God then it opens the door to other concepts such as morality being independent of God.

  • sean

    But Andrew, that would seem to imply that if a God really did exist we shouldn’t give him credibility or power above and beyond how we would with a human leader, because he’s just basically a really powerful dude and that’s it.

  • sean

    In all seriousness though, these logical laws are ontologically prior to God’s existence, necessarily, whereas morality doesn’t have to be. What people are doing is trying to make his existence ontologically concurrent with these laws, but that doesn’t make any sense, because they then cannot imply God’s existence, which is needed to differentiate him from not existing. I see no justification for this concurrent argument though, only assertions.

    You see the same kind of argument for justifying God’s morality, some sort of concurrency situation that fails to properly address the prongs of the Euthyphro dilemma.

  • LRR4

    So God is not omnipotent. Gotcha.

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  • Soul Collector

    He is. He can do all things if he wants. He is not subject to man.

  • VenerableShield

    5 years later… random person replies.
    Couldn’t help myself, but I think you should make a distinction between what is rational and what is logical. In that sense, there is only one logic (part of which is described by the three laws mentioned in original post) and I agree it is a fundamental aspect of God’s nature. But I would argue that all that exists MUST be logical. This includes Men. Driving a car off a skyscraper is stupid, perhaps even reprehensible, but it is “logically” possible. It is not however rational (unless you have a good reason or “rationale” for doing so). So I would make a distinction between the logical (which defines what is possible) versus rational (what is smart or good or justifiable etc). I think this distinction would help with confusion over God’s logic (the only logic) versus Man’s logic (which is really only either rationalization or it could describe Man’s understanding of true logic).