Why the laws of logic work
When the non-believer embraces materialism, they literally destroy the possibility of knowledge, as well as science and technology. Materialistic atheism is one of the easiest worldviews to refute-it virtually refutes itself. A materialistic non-believer believes that nature (what we see, hear, smell, feel) is all that there is. The non-believer believes that there is no transcendent God who oversees and maintains creation. Many non-believers believe that their worldview is rational—and scientific. However, by embracing materialism, the non-believer has destroyed the possibility of knowledge, as well as science and technology. To say it another way, if atheism were true, it would be impossible to prove anything!
Why would I say that? Reasoning involves knowing, understanding and using the laws of logic. This includes the ‘law of non-contradiction’ which says that you cannot have A and not-A at the same time and in the same relationship. All of our beliefs, thoughts, and knowledge are built on top of the law of non-contradiction, so when a person tries to deny this foundation, they are bound to go way off track in their pursuit of understanding reality as it really is. If you have any doubts about this fundamental law of rationality, try to deny it, but then write out your denial in a sentence – “The law of non-contradiction is false” – and ask whether your statement is both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. If the law of non-contradiction is false, then your statement of denial must be both true and false. However, if your denial is false, then the law of non-contradiction is true! By denying the law of non-contradiction, you have just affirmed it. The more you try to deny the law, the more you will affirm it.
However, why is this law true? Why should there be a law of non-contradiction, or for that matter, any laws of reasoning? The Christian can easily answer this question. For the Christian there is an absolute standard for reasoning; we are to pattern our thoughts after God’s. The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks. The law of non-contradiction is not one person’s opinion of how we ought to think, instead it stems from God’s self-consistent nature. God cannot deny Himself ( 2 Timothy 2:13), and so, the way God upholds the universe will necessarily be non-contradictory.
Laws of logic are God’s standard for our thinking. Since God is an unchanging, sovereign, immaterial Being, the laws of logic are abstract, universal, invariant entities. In other words, they are not made of matter—they apply everywhere and at all times. Laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature. Moreover, they are necessary for logical reasoning. Thus, rational reasoning would be impossible without the biblical God.
The materialistic non-believer cannot rationally have laws of logic. The non-believer believes that everything that exists is material—part of the physical world. However, laws of logic are not physical. You cannot stub your toe on a law of logic. Laws of logic cannot exist in the non-believer’s world, yet the non-believer will always try to reason with them. This of course is completely inconsistent. The non-believer is borrowing from the Christian worldview to argue against the Christian worldview. The non-believer’s view cannot be rational because they use laws of logic that cannot exist according to their own beliefs.
The debate over the existence of God is a bit like a debate over the existence of air. Can you imagine someone arguing that air does not actually exist? He would offer seemingly excellent “proofs” against the existence of air, while simultaneously breathing air and expecting that we can hear his words as the sound is transmitted through the air. In order for us to hear and understand his claim, it would have to be wrong. Likewise, the non-believer, in arguing that God does not exist must use laws of logic that only make sense if God does exist. In order for his argument to make sense, it would have to be wrong.
A non-believer then continues, illogically, “I can reason just fine, and I don’t believe in God.” However, this is no different from the critic of air saying, “Well, I can breathe just fine, and I don’t believe in air.” This is not a rational response. Breathing requires air, not a profession of belief in air. Likewise, logical reasoning requires God, not a profession of belief in Him. Of course, the non-believer can reason; it is because God has made his mind and given him access to the laws of logic—and that is the point. It is because God exists that reasoning is possible. The non-believer can reason, but within his own worldview, he cannot account for his ability to reason.
The non-believer might respond, “Laws of logic are conventions made up by man.” However, conventions are (by definition) conventional. That is, we all agree to them and so they work—like driving on the right side of the road. However, if laws of logic were conventional, then different cultures could adopt different laws of logic (like driving on the left side of the road). Therefore, in some cultures it might be perfectly fine to contradict yourself. In some societies, truth could be self-contradictory. Clearly that would not do. If laws of logic are just conventions, then they are not universal laws. Rational debate would be impossible if laws of logic were conventional, because the two opponents could simply pick different standards for reasoning. Each would be right according to his own arbitrary standard.
The non-believer might respond, “Laws of logic are material—they are made of electro-chemical connections in the brain.” Then the laws of logic are not universal; they would not extend beyond your particular brain. In other words, we could not argue that contradictions cannot occur on Mars, since no one’s brain is on Mars. In fact, if the laws of logic were just electro-chemical connections in the brain, then they would differ somewhat from person to person because everyone has different connections in their brain and slightly different levels of required brain chemicals.
Sometimes a non-believer will attempt to answer with a more pragmatic response: “We use the laws of logic because they work.” Unfortunately, for them, that is not the question. We all agree the laws of logic work; they work because they are true. The question is why they exist in the first place. How can the non-believer account for absolute standards of reasoning like the laws of logic? How can non-material things like laws exist if the universe is material only?
As a last resort, the non-believer may give up a strictly materialistic view and agree that there are immaterial, universal laws. This is a huge concession; after all, if a person is willing to concede that immaterial, universal, unchanging entities can exist, then they must consider the possibility that God exists. However, this concession does not save the non-believer’s position. They must still justify the laws of logic. Why do they exist? Moreover, what is the point of contact between the material physical world and the immaterial world of logic? In other words, why does the material universe feel compelled to obey immaterial laws? The non-believer cannot answer these questions. Their worldview cannot be justified; it is arbitrary and thus irrational.
Clearly, non-believing is not a rational worldview. It is self-refuting because the non-believer must first assume the opposite of what he is trying to prove in order to be able to prove anything. As Dr. Cornelius VanTil[i] put it, “[A]theism presupposes theism.” Laws of logic require the existence of God—and not just any god, but the Christian God. Only the God of the Bible can be the foundation for knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; Colossians 2:3). Since the God of Scripture is immaterial, sovereign, and beyond time, it makes sense to have laws of logic that are immaterial, universal, and unchanging. Since God has revealed Himself to man, we are able to know and use logic. Since God made the universe and since God made our minds, it makes sense that our minds would have an ability to study and understand the universe. However, if the brain is simply the result of mindless evolutionary processes that conveyed some sort of survival value in the past, why should we trust its conclusions? If the universe and our minds are simply the results of time and chance, as the non-believer contends, why would we expect that the mind could make sense of the universe? How could science and technology be possible?
Rational thinking, science, and technology make sense in a Christian worldview. The Christian has a basis for these things; the non-believer does not. This is not to say that non-believers cannot be rational about some things. They can because they too are made in God’s image and have access to God’s laws of logic. However, they have no rational basis for rationality within their own worldview. Likewise, non-believers can be moral, but they have no basis for that morality according to what they claim to believe. A non-believer is a walking bundle of contradictions. He reasons and does science, yet he denies the very God that makes reasoning and science possible. On the other hand, the Christian worldview is consistent and makes sense of human reasoning and experience.
[i] a Christian philosopher, Reformed theologian, and presuppositional apologist.