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The Epistemic Priority of Logic

In our modern and postmodern age of illogicity, the idea and use of Logic has fallen on hard times. Yet those especially non-philosophers who denigrate her often do not even realize what they are actually saying. It is a symptom of the ignorance of our age that Christians, influenced more by [Soren] Kierkegaard than [John] Calvin, imagine it pious to say that God is larger than logic, and that God is higher than our logic.

In this missive, I would like to defend the epistemic priority of logic. In order to do this, I would look at what logic at its foundation is and the implications it has, and then through a reductio ad absurdum prove beyond doubt that denying its epistemic priority precludes knowledge and discussion of any kind whatsoever.

Basic Logic and its implications

While logic can be made to look elaborate and complicated with the use of Aristotelian Venn Diagrams, Propositional Truth Tables, Predicate symbolic notation etc, the fundamental laws of logic are actually very simple, and everybody presupposes them from the time they learn how to think and speak. They are 1) the Law of Identity, 2) the Law of Non-Contradiction, and 3) the Law of the Excluded Middle.

The Law of Identity simply states that a thing "A" = "A". In other words, if I say "God", I mean "God" and not "Man", not "Animal" and not anything else. Here of course, we are talking about the concept "God", so synonyms and translations are still considered "A" even though their forms are different. So the fact that "Deity" is a synonym for "God", and that "神" in both Chinese and Japanese is also "God" does not contradict this rule.

In any form of knowledge or conversation, this rule is always obeyed. When I say "this ball", I am referring to a particular ball I am pointing to, not a flower in the garden. Even in knowledge and discourse of God, when I say "God", I am referring to (since I am a Christian) the Christian God, shortening the phrase "Christian God" to "God" since Christians only recognize one God as true.

The Law of Non Contradiction simple states that a thing is not "A" and "non-A" at the same time in the same manner. This is again a very basic law which everyone utilizes, except for Hegelians after they have learned Hegelian thought (and even then inconsistently — they do not utilize it on their bank accounts for example). If I say I have a ball, it does not therefore mean that I both have and do not have the ball at the same time in the same manner. If I have $1000 in my bank account, it does not mean that I have $1000 and also do not have $1000 in my bank account at the same time in the same manner.

In theological discourse, this again is always kept. If a Van Tillian says that Man's knowledge is analogous to God's knowledge, he does not mean that Man's knowledge is both analogous and not analogous to God's knowledge. If God is God, it does not mean that God is God and also not God.

The third law, the Law of the Excluded Middle, simple states that a thing is either "A" or "not-A", and not neither (in the middle). Here, we say that God is either God or He is not God; He is not neither "God" or "not-God". It must be seen here that we are dealing with total opposites ("not-A"), not antagonists ("A" versus "B"). Therefore, fire and water are (generally) antagonists, such that either one or the other can exist, yet they are not opposites. The opposite of "fire" is "not-fire", and the opposite of water is "not-water". The opposite of God is not Satan, but the absence of God ("not-God"). The opposite of "Man" is not "Animal" or "Inanimate thing", but simply "not-man".

Therefore, in any discourse, if we say "God", we must obey the Law of Identity otherwise the word can mean anything anyone wishes it to mean. Whoever denies that this law is properly basic and does not precede the knowledge of God, to be consistent, must prove that the word "God" means "God" apart from appeal to that law (or any of the other two laws). Similarly, if one denies the Law of Non-Contradiction, then anyone can say that a person who says "God" is also saying "not-God" and that a sentence like "God is" also means "God is not". Lastly, whoever denies the Law of the Excluded Middle has no grounds for complaining when a person looks at a sentence "God is not Man" and says that the sentence can mean "God neither is God nor Man"

Since embrace of these three foundational laws of logic are necessary for any form of knowledge or communication to take place at all, to know/talk/write about God requires an a priori embrace of these three basic laws of logic. As such, logic is epistemologically prior to God. As C. Matthew McMahon states,

Ontologically, God precedes Logic. Epistemologically Logic precedes God.[1]

When we speak of the epistemic priority of Logic, It must be noted here that no one is saying that God is subservient or temporally subsequent to logic. If some Clarkians can be accused of subsuming ontology under epistemology, then surely some Van Tillians can be accused of subsuming epistemology under ontology. Both approaches are wrong, for ontology is not epistemology and epistemology is not ontology. Ontology has to do with being, while epistemology has to do with cognition. There is of course the being of any particular knowledge (ontology of epistemology) , and the knowledge of any particular being (epistemology proper), yet the two disciplines remain distinct.

When therefore we state that "epistemologically logic precedes God", we are merely saying that in the order of knowing from our side, we start not with God but with reason, for the very thought of God is itself THOUGHT which is rational. In order not to start with reason, thinking, sentence construction, speaking etc cannot be used.

A Reductio ad Absurdum argument

In order to prove this, a Reductio ad Absurdum argument to show the implications of denying the epistemic priority of logic with respects to the issue of theology is hereby given. Person A thinks that God precedes logic epistemology, while person B will take out position in this regard.

A: I say that epistemologically God precedes logic. Without God, logic cannot be known.

B: I disagree. How do you know that your sentence "without God, logic cannot be known" means what is means without presupposing logic?

A: Without God, logic does not exist and is nonsensical.

B: We are talking about epistemology here, not ontology.

A: Yes, without God, logic cannot be known and is nonsensical.

B: OK then. So how about this, why don't you try to prove to me that God exists if such were the case?

A: Well, we don't prove God, God just IS. We start with God.

B: [consistent] I heard you say that the flowers are green. Was that what you said?

A: What flowers? I said God just IS.

B: Oh, the sky is blue?

A: You are being facetious!

B: So I am perfectly fine. Thanks.

A: Look, I'm not going to play word games with you. You jolly well know what I am talking about!

B: [changing back] Well, didn't you say that God precedes logic?


B: So if God precedes logic, then I cannot use logic until I know God. In which case, you have to prove to me that God exists first apart from the use of logic.

A: I didn't use logic. I presupposed God.

B: No, you didn't. You just said one sentence after another. Apart from logic, all sentences are equivocal and mean anything I want them to mean.

A: Now I see the reality of Rom. 1:18-23 in your faulty reasoning.

B: [switching back] So you are saying that my house is beautiful? Thanks.

A: *exasperated* [storms off]


It is hoped that this dialogue would show the futility of denying the epistemic priority of Logic. The failure to differentiate ontology and epistemology in today's circles contributes to the illogicity of our times. We must always keep the balance between both, and affirm both the ontological priority of God and the epistemic priority of logic.


[1] C. Matthew McMahon, The Two Wills of God: Does God really have Two Wills (New Lenox, IL, USA: Puritan Publications, 2005), 24