Logic mundane and divine

Mike Arnautov, October 1993

The question of inherent limitations to divine omnipotence has been considered endlessly by theologians of many different religions, with accusations and counter-accusations of blasphemy flying thick and fast.

A subset of this argument frequently surfaces in religious discussions: can we apply human logic to our interpretation of and our reasoning about divine acts? Or in its most general form: does the logic of the mundane "here" apply to the metaphysical "there"?

It is rarely appreciated that the answer must be "yes". Postulating omnipotence without logical constraints spells metaphysical trouble. Here's why.

  1. Logic is merely the name for a set of constraints ensuring self-consistency. For believers, it is clearly necessary to accept that some such set of constraints (i.e. logic) must apply to God (or gods), because otherwise nothing can be inferred from any divine revelations. If you accept that there are no consistency bounds on divine acts, any divine act (e.g. the incarnation) can mean anything - e.g. God simply had a toothache. It becomes impossible to object that God having a toothache is a manifest absurdity, or that the Incarnation - as described by the divine revelation in the Bible - was meant to save mankind, because that also presupposes that God is bound by a logic which would connect His revelations with His intentions. One cannot even argue that God may still wish for such a connection, without being bound by it, because without an internal consistency, no conclusion at all can be drawn from such a supposition.

  2. So, God must be bound by some internal consistency rules - i.e. by a "logic" in the widest meaning of the word. That leaves us with two possibilities - either our logic is subsumed in the divine logic, or it is not. Either way we get trouble.

  3. If our logic is subsumed in the divine one, then the divine extensions cannot contradict anything that can be deduced by our logic. To suppose otherwise would postulate a contradiction within this higher logic. Once a logical system has a contradiction (i.e. the set of constraints is no longer self-consistent), it can be demonstrated that it becomes completely inconsistent and any assertion (and its negation) can be proved within it. Which leads back to the problems described in (1).

  4. If our logic is not subsumed in the divine one, we are once again back to (1) but this time for a different reason - we no longer have any handle on deducing divine intentions from divine revelations. Again, it becomes impossible to argue against a suggestion that, say, the incarnation was actually meant to save cockroaches and its human aspect was purely incidental.

I.e. either God(s) must be bound by logic we understand, or divine revelations become fundamentally incomprehensible or, of course, there is no God(s), as non-theists believe to be the case. I cannot see why believers should be uncomfortable with the first of these three alternatives - after all, Man was supposedly created in God's image (and had eaten from the tree of knowledge to boot).

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Mike Arnautov (23 December 2016)