Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind... I began my teaching career at the college level in 1966, and that's getting to be a long time ago these days. And you know, over the years, over the decades, living through the decade of the 60s and the Cultural Revolution and then through the 70s and so on, I saw gradual changes in the students that came into the classroom coming out of high school into college.
And then as I began to teach seminary, I could also discern the difference in the assumptions that students had when they came out of the colleges and into seminary. A few years ago, Alan Bloom wrote a book that surprised everybody when it became a runaway bestseller entitled The Closing of the American Mind, in which Professor Bloom said in the very first page of this book that 95% of high school graduates who enter the freshman class of universities and colleges today come to college already assuming a philosophy of relativism. And he said, then what happens in the following four years is that those assumptions that they come into college with out of high school are now set in concrete. Because, he said, the academic community in modern America has a mind that is closed to objective truth. The truth is now perceived as being subjective as a matter of preference.
Now, that's bad news in one sense, and yet on the other hand, I say repeatedly that you might find 95% of people saying that they're relativists, but nobody is a relativist for more than 24 hours because you can't survive in this world really as a consistent relativist for more than 24 hours because you can't drive your car to an intersection and see a truck coming and say it's all relative, and I subjectively choose to believe that there's no truck coming down the highway, and so I pull in front of that subjective illusion of mine and I am annihilated. And so people assume even when they deny it a certain rational framework for the world in which they live. In fact, that assumption of an objectively rational framework for reality is an assumption that is necessary for any science to take place. Now, it was Aristotle who in his philosophical inquiry centuries ago developed theories of physics, of chemistry, of drama, of ethics, of biology, and he was prodigious in the scope of his learning, but in addition to the development of these sciences that he individuated, he also developed what is called now since his work Aristotelian logic. Now, when Aristotle developed his theories of logic, he made the statement that logic is what he called the organon of all science. That is, logic itself is not a science, but rather logic is an instrument that is a necessary tool for all science. That is, what Aristotle said was that logic is a necessary condition for meaningful communication. If I say, for example, that this piece of chalk is not a piece of chalk, I cannot communicate anything intelligible to you when I make such a statement.
My favorite illustration of this took place when I was teaching in Philadelphia several decades ago, and I had a senior class in philosophy there and apologetics, and I said on one occasion, I did this very illustration. I picked up a piece of chalk, and we were studying the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Kant's analysis of different kinds of statements, posteriori judgments, and so on. And I said, okay, I've given you various kinds of analytical statements, now what kind of a statement is this? And I held up the piece of chalk, and I said, this piece of chalk is not a piece of chalk.
Now, I was very careful to speak in harsh terms and to furrow my brow so that my statement would sound philosophically profound. This piece of chalk is not a piece of chalk. I had the dean of our institution sitting in the class that day, and so I asked for students, what does that mean? And the fellow who was the valedictorian of the class, he put his hand up and he said, what you're saying is that that particular piece of chalk in your hand does not fully participate in the universal essence of chalkness. And I said, oh, I said, well, which particular piece of chalk? And he pointed to the one I was holding up.
I said, but it's that particular piece of chalk that I'm saying is not a piece of chalk, so why do you call it a piece of chalk? And so he mumbled something and sat down. And I said, come on, somebody help us out here. And the dean, you know, was getting embarrassed. The students were looking at him and asked him, you know, what he thought about it. And he said, well, this has to do with the old question of nomina and race, of realism and nominalism, you know. And he started playing games with all of that kind of stuff, with the intellectual concept of chalkness as opposed to the objective reality of it. And he said, it's not that a particular piece of chalk is not objectively the piece of chalk.
And I said, but it's this objective piece of chalk that I'm saying is not objectively a piece of chalk. So, he cashed in his chips and gave up. And I said, come on, we can't spend much time on this. Now, sitting in the front row was the bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Norristown, Pennsylvania, an excellent student, a black man who had come from the streets of Philadelphia. And I said, help us out. And the bishop was moving all over his chair and getting more and more agitated. And I said, come on, help us out, Bishop Walters. What does this mean when I say this piece of chalk is not a piece of chalk?
And he says, I can't make no sense out of that kind of jazz. And I said, thank God there is one intelligent creature in this room. I said, I fooled everybody in this class with my hushed voice and speaking nonsense, but this man recognized immediately that it was a con game and that I was making a statement that was fundamentally unintelligible. Now, people do that all the time. And what I did was purposefully violate the law of non-contradiction. And in so doing, as I violated the law of non-contradiction by saying, this chalk is not this chalk, I made a nonsense statement. And I had plunged into a sea of absurdity and irrationality. People do it all the time.
And if they talk boldly while they do it, they get away with it. And yet you see this in a million fronts. And as we continue our course, here, on apologetics, I will try to show you time and time again how this law of non-contradiction and the principles of logic are violated in attempts to undermine Christian theism. I once had a discussion with a fellow who had been the valedictorian of Carnegie Mellon Institution in chemical engineering, and he was arguing against the existence of God. We were sitting at a table in a restaurant, and he began by saying boldly that there's no scientific evidence or rational evidence for the existence of God. And so, I began to engage with him in discussion and took him to the place where he recognized, as well as I recognized, I recognized that logic required him, from the premises we had agreed upon, to agree to the conclusion that God exists.
But he refused to go there. And I said, how can you resist that conclusion? And he said to me, I grant that the argument is compelling and that logic demands that I must affirm the existence of God, but I don't believe in logic. Now, I know this, that if I would have walked into that restaurant before having had that discussion with this scientist and said to him up front, do you believe in logic? He would have said, of course, it's half of the scientific method.
How can I be a scientist and deny the rules of logic? That's what he would have said. But, I didn't ask him that in advance. But as we're in the midst of this argument and he saw that logic required for him to affirm something he didn't want to affirm, he retreated to the position of denying the validity of logic. And I said, fine.
So, you don't believe in the law of non-contradiction? He said, no. I said, no.
I said, good. So, I stopped right then and there, didn't say another word. And he continued to probe, he continued to talk to me, and I ignored him.
I just sat there and ate my dinner. And he was getting more and more annoyed at me because he was speaking, I wasn't answering, I wasn't responding to him. And finally, I looked up at him and I said, would you please pass me the salt? And he reached over and picked up the salt shaker and handed it to me. And he said, here.
I said, whoa, wait a minute. You mean you can distinguish between a salt shaker that is a salt shaker and not a salt shaker at the same time, the same relationship? I said, actually, you do believe in the law of contradiction because I can have a meaningful discussion with you as long as it's not about God. If I want to talk to you about salt shakers, then all of a sudden you become rational. You see, one of the philosophers that I studied when I was in seminary made this observation, that it's easy for people to deny the validity of the law of non-contradiction, but that all denials of the law of non-contradiction are forced and temporary.
They are forced and temporary. That is, people only deny the validity of this law when it suits them, when they want to avoid a conclusion that they don't want to have to embrace. And I've learned a long time ago in theological discussion and philosophical debate that when the opponent denies the law of contradiction, the argument's over.
I don't want to go any further. If the person says, I don't believe in rationality, I can say, fine, at least you are saying that your alternative to Christian theism is by your broadcast manifestly irrational. And that's all we're trying to show in apologetics, that if you're going to be rational, if you're going to be reasonable, then you have to affirm the existence of God. And if the only way you can escape the existence of God is by denying rationality, then go ahead and do it.
That's what we're trying to demonstrate in the first instance. But what is most critical in our day is the triumph of irrationalism not over the secular mindset, but over the Christian community, where we've seen the impact of existential philosophy have pervasive inroads into Christian thinking. So that even in seminaries today, when I walk in the door, I find that the majority of students who walk in the door in the seminary today have already been convinced by the secular world that truth can be irrational and that the Bible can be contradictory and still be the Word of God. And it's an astonishing thing. But in neo-orthodox theology, for example, two of the leading exponents of it, Karl Barth and Emil Bruner, who were massively influenced by existential thought, particularly the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard, who argued that truth is subjectivity in the nineteenth century, have taken this new position towards reason.
It's not all that new. All the way back at Tertullian in the early church, Tertullian raised the question, what does Jerusalem have to do with Athens? And what Tertullian wanted to do was to free Christianity from any undue influence from Greek philosophy. And since Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, and it was Aristotle who defined the rules of logic, people early on went on to say, that's Greek stuff.
That's not Christian stuff. Christianity is free from the reins imposed upon it by the categories of Greek thought. But I remind people that Aristotle did not invent logic any more than Columbus invented America. All he did was discover the rules that were already there that are built into the human mind.
What are the necessary conditions for human beings to be able to carry on meaningful discourse? He discovered and defined principles of reasoning that are built into your humanity by your Creator, by the God who is not the author of confusion, who is not irrational nor absurd. But the God who speaks to us is a God who speaks in a coherent, meaningful, intelligible way. That the Word of God is meant to be understood by God's creatures, and a necessary condition for that understanding is that God not speak to us with a forked tongue or in contradictions. However, as I mentioned a few moments ago, the advent and the influence of neo-Orthodox theology through the influence of Karl Barth and Emil Bruner has been massive in our day.
In the first 20 years of the 20th century, Karl Barth published his rumor brief, his commentary on Romans, which was described as a bombshell that fell on the playground of the theologians. And in his epistle to the Romans, Dr. Barth made this observation. He said, until or unless the Christian is able to affirm both poles of a contradiction, that Christian has not yet gone to maturity. So that the mark of maturity, according to Barth, for a Christian was to be able to affirm both sides of a contradiction.
And in Long and the Same Path, Emil Bruner, his compatriot, in his little book, Warheit aus Begegnung, Truth as Encounter, made this observation that became famous in the theological world, quote, contradiction is the hallmark of truth. See, it's a slight step from saying contradictions are permissible. They're allowable. We can have them.
We can live with them. And we need to be able to embrace them. And then, not only do we embrace them, but we glory in them because they're the very hallmark of truth. Now, let's apply that principle to the Scriptures.
My favorite application of that is to go back to Genesis 3, where God speaks to Adam and Eve in the garden. And God sets before Adam and Eve certain principles. He says, of all the trees of the garden you may freely eat, but one He sets off limits. And He said, if you eat of that tree, you shall surely die. Now, if we translate that into logical categories, what God is saying to Adam and Eve is, if A, then B. If you eat, you will die.
That's the construction. Then the serpent comes along. And after some seductive inquiries to Eve that were somewhat crafty, he proceeds to the heart of the issue and says to Eve, you will not die, but you will become as gods.
All right? So, what the serpent says to Eve is, if you eat, if A, then non-B. Now, let's assume that Adam and Eve were schooled in Aristotle's university. And Adam looks at that and says, Eve looks at that and says, wait a minute, Mr. Serpent, that's a direct contradiction from what my Creator said a few moments ago.
Ha-ha! But I learned my theological lesson that the contradiction between the serpent and the serpent must be an ambassador for the truth. It must be a representative from God. And so, if that's the case, and if I'm really going to be a mature child of God, able to embrace both poles of a coin, I'm going to be able to embrace both poles of a coin, and I'm going to be able to embrace both poles of a coin, and I'm going to be able to embrace both poles of God, able to embrace both poles of a contradiction. Not only may I eat from this tree, but what? I must eat from this tree in order to be an obedient, mature Christian. Now, what I've tried to do here is to reduce this principle to absolute absurdity, because if contradiction is the hallmark of truth, as I said earlier, there's no way you can possibly differentiate between truth and falsehood, between truth and the lie, between good and evil, between obedience and disobedience, between godliness and ungodliness, between Christ and the Antichrist.
What? You tell me that you can embrace both poles of a contradiction? Are you going to tell me that Christ can be Christ and Antichrist at the same time and in the same relationship?
Dear friends, nothing is more seductive to the truth of God than to cut away at the very fiber of truth itself. Now, the law of contradiction and logic has no content to it. If you embrace logic, you're not embracing any information or content or any premises.
All logic does is measure the relationship between premises, between propositions, so that if I make two statements and we can see whether they're consistent and coherent or if they're contradictory, you apply the tools of logic to see whether my conclusions really follow from my premises. For example, in the classic syllogism, all men are mortal. Socrates is a man. You've got the first premise. You've got the second premise. You've got two propositions here.
How do they relate? Well, logic tells you that if all men are mortal and if Socrates is a man, then there's no if to the conclusion. If all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then manifestly Socrates must be mortal. And so the truth of your conclusion is determined by the validity of the argument, and there are rules that measure the relationship of ideas. Logic is like a policeman that God has put in the brain of human beings. To blow the whistle, to recognize the lie.
The whistle blows when things don't compute, just like your computer goes wacky when you ask it to be irrational. So, God has built into the human mind a function of rationality that is a test of coherency, a test of rationality. And at the very heart of the Christian affirmation is that though the content that we get in the Bible goes far beyond what we can learn through rational speculation, it's based on divine revelation, it's based on divine revelation. That divine revelation does not come to us packaged in absurdity. The Word of God is not irrational. It is addressed to creatures who have been given minds that operate according to these principles. God created us, and that includes our minds. He created language, and He created our ability to understand.
That means when God speaks truth in His Word, we can understand it rationally. We just heard a message from Dr. R.C. Sproul's classic series, Defending Your Faith. In it, R.C. looks at the history of apologetics and shows us that reason and logic can be our allies in defending Christianity in a secular world.
It is one of R.C. 's most popular series, and we would like for you to have all 32 lessons. Simply send a gift of any amount to Ligonier Ministries along with your request. You can do that online at renewingyourmind.org or when you call us at 800-435-4343.
There are 11 DVDs in this collection, plus a bonus disc that contains all the audio files for the series, plus a copy of the study guide, reading suggestions, study questions, and an outline for each lesson. Just request Defending Your Faith when you call us. Again, our number is 800-435-4343.
Or if you prefer to make your request online, our address is renewingyourmind.org. Next week, R.C. will address one of those questions that really causes our heads to ache. Is God eternal, or did His existence have a starting point? I hope you'll join us next week for Renewing Your Mind.
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