Book Review: The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Nash)

Nash, Ronald.  The Word of God and the Mind of Man. Zondervan: 1982. Reprint by Presbyterian and Reformed.RonNash

The possibility of our having cognitive knowledge about God was denied on three grounds:  God is too transcendent; 2) human knowledge is de jure problematic; 3) human language was de jure problematic.

Question of the book: Can the human logos know the Logos of God (Nash 14)?

Hume’s Gap: our pivotal beliefs must rest on something besides knowledge.

Kant’s wall: there is a wall between the world as it is and the sense world.

For the Neo-Orthodox, revelation is always an event.  It is never cognitive knowledge about God.

Defense of Propositional Revelation

(A)  All S is P                                             (E) No  S is P

(I)  Some S is P                                         (O) Some S is not P.

(A) All revelation is propositional       (E) No revelation is propositional

(I) Some revelation is propositional    (O) Some rev. Is not propositional

We can rule out O as irrelevant to the discussion.  The Neo-Orthodox thinks that all evangelicals hold to A, but that’s false.  We hold to I.  Further, holding to I doesn’t entail the claim that all revelation is propositional.

In short God reveals knowledge to his creation and some of this knowledge about himself is contained in the form of propositions (45). And even if one wants to claim that revelation is personal, saving faith still presupposes saving faith about something.

The Christian Logos

This is the heart of Nash’s project. Key idea: “Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos of god, mediates all divine revelation and grounds the correspondence between the divine and human minds” (59).

The Christian Rationalism of St Augustine

Augustine has some sort of interplay between the uncreated Light of God and the mutable light of the human mind (81). How can the human mind understand the eternal Forms within God’s mind?  Nash suggests three ways:

(1) The human intellect is both passive and active with respect to the forms (85). It is passive, pace Kant, in that it doesn’t create the conditions for knowledge. It is active in the sense that it judges and receives.

(2) The forms are and are not separate from the divine mind.

(3) The human mind is and is not a light that makes knowledge possible.

While Nash had a fine discussion on how Augustine modified Plato’s essentialism, and I don’t necessarily disagree, the chapter just feels “short.” I know he wrote a book on the topic and it is worth pursuing there.

In Defense of Logic

When Nash wrote this book, the Dooyeweerdian school in Toronto was a force to be reckoned with (one sees something similar in John Frame’s works).  Nash gives a fine rebuttal to the Dooyeweerdians: if human reason is valid only one one side of the cosmonomic boundary, “then any inference that God is transcendent must be an illegitimate application of human reason” (99). In other words, if God is transcendent, you are in error for saying he is transcendent!


The Logos of God has created the logos of the human mind in such a way that that it can receive cognitive, propositional knowledge about a transcendent God.



Review: Logic-A God Centered Approach (Poythress)

This isn’t a logic textbook, yet it isn’t quite a worldview approach to logic.  It is something of both, yet completely neither.  I still liked it, though.

Image result for logic poythress

He begins with a theological “grounding” of logic, which amounts to a summary of his and Frame’s approach to worldview.  It’s good, but it lasts about 200 pages before you get into the “nuts and bolts” of logic.

He then gives a primer on deductive syllogisms, propositional logic, quantification, functions, sets, modal logic, and much else. I did enjoy the fact that he pointed out how pure systems like Russell’s and others are so formal as to have little content.  This is analogous to the desire for “pure being.”

64: Logic is an aspect of God’s mind.  It reveals God’s attributes.

89: Logic is God’s self-consistency

Key argument: Logic is personal, but it doesn’t depend on any one human person, since if all humans perished, logic would still be true. It is transcendent, displays his attributes, and is part of God’s speech (80).

This next part is important, as it provides another foundation for the rest of the book’s argument:

Axioms of Propositional Logic

Principle of Tautology: (p V p) ⊃ p 

You might need to learn this one.  Poythress’s work is unique in the sense that he puts every single axiom through a truth table.

Principle of Addition

⊃ (p V q)  “If it is dark, then (either it is raining or it is dark)”

The Principle of Permutation

(p V q) ⊃ (q V p)

If (either it is raining or it is dark), then (either it is dark or it is raining)

The Associative Principle

(p V (q V r)) ⊃ (q V (p V r))

If (either it is raining or (it is dark or it is cold)), then (either it is dark or (it is raining or it is cold))

The Principle of Summation

(q ⊃ r) ⊃ ((p V q) ⊃ (p V r))

If (it is dark implies it is cold), then (the assumption that (it is raining or it is dark) implies the conclusion that (it is raining or it is cold)).

While it might not seem like it, these are powerful tools and the reader is encouraged to work through a few of them in truth tables in the appendices.  The book has some severe drawbacks, in that it isn’t a logic textbook, and some important concepts are woefully underdeveloped (like modal logic).  But I did enjoy it and parts of it should be read.

Frame Paper, Part 1

This is a paper, or rather part of an exercise, we had to do in seminary.  It was 12 years ago.  The italicized is the issue under discussion

1. Implication is something that pervades our experience.

Men are rational creatures (but much more than that!). While some men are not logically consistent, they cannot escape the demands that logic and rationality make on their lives. Even if men are not able to formulate symbolic arguments, they see the implications of such arguments everyday and act (or refuse to act!) accordingly. It is indirectly tied to the determinative nature that presuppositions (or ultimate) commitments play in our experience. Men may not fully understand (or rather, articulate) an issue, but they can act accordingly.

2. Logic is a hermeneutical tool.

Logic, like hermeneutics, seeks to unpack the meaning of a sentence (or structure of thought). Building off implication, which doesn’t give new meaning to the statement, but rather rearranges the meaning in new ways. Similarly, logic in theology doesn’t give “new meaning” to the text, but unpacks and rearranges meaning already there.

3. Define the nature of a logical must.

Logical musts are both analytic and moral. Those who know the truths of several premises know the conclusion, whether they act on it or not. Secondly, logical musts are moral in nature. Men are created imago Dei and since logic and rationality is a part of God’s character, to be logical is to be faithful to God.

4. Logic is dependent on ethical values.

If logical musts pervade men’s experience, then there is some ethical foundation for why this is so. However, logic itself does not provide the foundation for ethics. There must be some transcendent standard which gives meaning to logic. This standard, I suggest, is Christian theism.

5. What is the nature of logical certainty?

Logical axioms appear certain because on one level they are “obvious” to the world. Scripture teaches us that we must live wisely and by implication we are to live according to these facts insofar as they line up with Scripture. However, logic is not the normative perspective and so will at times need to be modified by Scriptural reflection. We are certain because God has revealed facts in nature (which do not contradict his word), commands us to live wisely and to judge all things by his word which at times will cause us to modify a previous system.

6. Is it biblically legitimate to use logic in theology? Does such use of logic conflict with sola scriptura?

Yes. Logic is a characteristic of God and while not the normative standard for the believer, it will not contradict God’s word provided logic is put in its proper category. Logic no more violates sola Scriptura  any more than the practice of hermeneutics does. Logic, like hermeneutics, unpacks meaning already in the text.

7. If you cannot handle the implications of formal logic, what is the next best thing to do? Why? Discuss.

If one is not ready for formal logic then he ought to become more self-critical and anticipate objections. Doing this implicitly involves the obedience/learning paradox. The more self-critical one becomes, the more logical he comes (that is, assuming that he seeks out logical instruction from more mature and perhaps, philosophically trained believers).

8. Discuss some limitations of logic.

Logic, for one, cannot provide its own epistemological justification. There must be a worldview present to provide the preconditions for intelligibility. Secondly, human logic is fallible. Or rather, human application of logical principles is fallible. While not necessarily a fault with logic, often logic fails to provide “the persuasive power” that more situational perspectives might have.

9. We cannot learn all we know all we know from logical proofs. Discuss, evaluate.

Proofs are tools of logic and while useful and indispensable, they are only secondary. More importantly, proofs themselves do not constitute the premises. In short, premises are often suggested by an extra-logical source (divine revelation, sense-experience, etc.). Therefore, logic often has no more authority than the source of its premises. This is quite useful for the Christian apologist. Logic presupposes God (of course, this argument can and needs to be developed elsewhere in Reformed studies).

10. Apparent contradiction is insufficient ground for rejecting a premise. Discuss.

A chief example of this truth is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. But more to the point of what Frame is discussing: we may not have all the facts that present with us. Granted the support of a premise that the author left unstated, the contradiction disappears. The author might have a perspective on the issue from which there is no contradiction. Of course, upon further evaluation the author might just be wrong and the contradiction stands regardless. But this issue should keep young theologians from jumping to premature conclusions.

11. Human logic is never a final test for truth. Why? Discuss.

Human logic is subject to human finitude. It does not escape the fact that humans do not know all the facts, their imperfect use of the right facts, and the fallibility of their own logical systems. In other words, it does not have all the perspectives on a given situation.

12. “Logical order” is an ambiguous expression.

Logical order is an umbrella phrase for different kinds of orders. Among other things, it is unclear as to whether one is speaking of temporal orders, varying degrees of conditionality, causality, and priority, among other things. The difficulty of such an expression becomes obvious when one looks at the decrees of God and the ordo saludis.

13. Analyze the controversy between the supra- and infralapsarianism.

The supra- wanted to see everything in the context of God’s electing love. The infra- wanted to see it in terms of God’s unfolding drama. Within the context of “logical order” the supra- saw everything in presuppositional priority whereas the infra- saw everything in anticipated temporality.

14. Theological doctrines have a tendency to become analytic. Explain, evaluate using examples.

Analytic doctrines imply the truth of the inclusion within the premise. Seen this way, many doctrines imply one another rather than counteract one another. Human freedom is intelligible only within the context of a sovereign God who gives meaning to human actions. God is good because his attributes are inseparable from him and good becomes part of the definition of God. This allows the believer a sense of certainty that the analytic doctrines can index.

15. Give some examples of theological discussion in which the burden of proof is an important issue. Show why.

Whenever one sets forth a new doctrine he has the responsibility to show that he is correct. The Baptist must show that God no longer deals covenantally with families with respect to covenant membership. The pro-choice advocate must show that the fetus is not alive and so may be killed without moral qualm. Traditionally, the Christian theist has had the burden of proof for God’s existence, but if he redefines his position as an a-atheist with the understanding that all men know God, then the atheist has the burden of proof to show that God does not exist!