Francis Schaeffer and others like him were always very adamant that the two-valued logic of thesis and antithesis was the proper mode of reasoning for the Christian. This is most usually applied, of course, to the area of morality. There is objective right and wrong, something cannot be both right and wrong at the same time, and so on. Christians, and theists in general, have good reason for sticking to this sort of logic – the presence of an external and objective point of reference (God) makes use of such absolute terms as right and wrong or thesis and antithesis valid. Without an external reference such as good, such logic is not possible. I feel that if the atheist (or the agnostic) wishes to use the logic of absolutes he must first provide a reason for us to accept that absolutes, of any sort, to exist. This is an old argument and not the one I want to make here.
So, Christians have long resisted any sort of logic other than that outlined above. Specifically, methods of reasoning such as reasoning by dialectics a la Hegel (not Socrates) have been vehemently rejected. In this framework the truth lies somewhere in the tension between thesis and antithesis – synthesis. I am simplifying, of course, probably to the point of misrepresentation, but I think the general idea is clear. Reasoning in this way removes ideas such as true and false leaving room only for this vague synthesis of thesis and antithesis. So, in a sense, something may be both true and false, the reality of the situation lying somewhere in between the two.
Such modes of thinking have usually been excluded from Christian thinking, certainly from anything but the most liberal Christian thinking at least, and usually for good reason. But are there certain situations when the dialectic mode comes into play?
What brought all this to mind was a thought I had recently, while walking home, about the whole debate between predestination vs. freewill. Both views seem to be supported, to an extent, by scripture. People on both sides of the argument seem to feel their side is supported more but it is certainly possible to support arguments both ways from scripture. I myself err on the side of free will (although I haven’t studied the issue too closely yet). It occurred to me that the person who believes in free will has to deal with two facts:
- While there appears to be plenty of support for free will in scripture, there certainly seems to be some support for predestination too; and
- leaving scripture aside, the facts that God is both pre-existent and omniscient pose serious logical problems for the idea of free will.
So, there is a very real sense in which both the notion of free will and the notion of predestination are true. Could this be an example of dialectic in Christian truth? Both of these ideas are in fact true and form a synthesis?
Before people start branding me as a heretick, I have a second example. Consider the trinity. On the one hand God is one god (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4) and yet also God is composed of three separate entities/personalities – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (cf. John 10:30 or 38, for example). Here we have two concepts that are in some sense contradictory and yet in a very real sense both true. Thesis: “God is one”, antithesis: “God is three” leading to synthesis “God is one and yet three at the same time.” This particular synthesis is one that has been accepted for many centuries by most Christians, indeed it is those who cause a fuss and say “well, they can’t both be true!” that are called hereticks.
I think Christians should certainly cling to the traditional logic of thesis and antithesis. It is our privilege as theists to be able to use such logic, and it is a powerful tool. But are there instances (especially when talking about God in terms of our own understanding, seeing as he is external to our physical universe) when the logic of dialectic must hold?
I’m sure this sort of application of dialectic reasoning to Christian ideas can’t be new, but I’ve never come across it. Is it because Christians are (justifiably) wary of moving away from traditional logic, or just because I don’t read the right books?