God and Logic

Logic, as Wittgenstein and Russell learned, is a very slippery thing. For starters, what is it? It’s not a physical thing – I don’t bump into logic on the street. It’s not necessarily reasonable – some things are perfectly logical while also being entirely unreasonable. But, oddly enough, like mathematics, we seem to be subject to it – regardless of its immaterial status. Is it odd that something immaterial is something to which everything material is subject?

One of the various ways in which John 1:1 can be translated is ‘In the beginning was the logic’. Logos has many shades of meaning – but suppose this is true, as Gordon Clark thought. Is logic uncreated, then? Is God logic? I say no – logic has far too many limits to be God. However, is God subject to logic? Can God do that which is illogical? If God can perform physical miracles, and is unlimited by the laws of nature, wouldn’t the same apply to logic? Can God make square circles? Married bachelors? I don’t think so – though part of me is tempted to say that if God decided to make a square circle, then we would simply have to redefine our notion of a circle. But generally, it’s agreed that God can’t do any of these things. Aquinas discusses this issue in a pretty definitive way in his Summa:

‘It remains, therefore, that God is called omnipotent because He can do all things that are possible absolutely; which is the second way of saying a thing is possible. For a thing is said to be possible or impossible absolutely, according to the relation in which the very terms stand to one another, possible if the predicate is not incompatible with the subject, as that Socrates sits; and absolutely impossible when the predicate is altogether incompatible with the subject, as, for instance, that a man is a donkey.’

‘Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: “No word shall be impossible with God.” For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing.’ (I Q. 25, Art.3)

Interesting stuff. Aquinas was a sharp fellow.

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