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Two theological accounts of logic: theistic conceptual realism and a reformed archetype-ectype model

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In this essay I analyze two emerging theistic accounts of the laws of logic, one precipitated by theistic conceptual realism and the other from an archetype-ectype paradigm in Reformed Scholasticism. The former posits the laws of logic as uncreated and necessary divine thoughts, whereas the latter thinks of those laws as contingent, accommodated forms of a pre-existing archetypal rationality. After the analysis of the two accounts, I offer an explication of the theological rationale motivating the archetype-ectype model of the laws of logic, and apply that model to recent discussions on theological paradox, abstract objects, and the function of natural-theological argumentation in apologetics. Finally, I respond to three anticipated objections against the archetype-ectype model.

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  1. The laws of logic include (1) the law of non-contradiction: □~(p & not p) (2) the law of excluded middle: □ (p v ~p) and (3) the law of identity ∀x: (x = x), and other axioms necessary for classical two-valued truth-functions. These, at least, include A1: p → p, A2: p → (q → p), A3: [p → (q → x)] → [(p → q) → (p → x)], A4: (~p → ~q) → (q → p). Also, one includes rules of inference such as uniform substitution and modus ponens.

  2. See Welty (2004, p. 57).

  3. Welty gives six conditions that a satisfying ontological account will meet: objectivity, necessity, intentionality, relevance, plenitude, and simplicity (2014, pp. 85–87).

  4. For purposes of space I focus on the laws of logic, and not on possible worlds, in this essay. Likewise, a discussion of first-order quantified logic is also omitted.

  5. Anderson and Welty (2011, p. 338).

  6. “… we identify the propositions expressed or contained by human thoughts with divine thoughts.” (Anderson and Welty 2013, p. 15). Thus, the propositions which express the laws of logic as we know them correspond one-to-one with the thoughts of God.

  7. Anderson and Welty (2013, p. 12 n. 22). Also on that page, “to say, for example that orangutans have legs and fireflies have legs does not imply that orangutans and fireflies have the same kind of legs.” This sensitivity indicates the Reformed underpinnings of Anderson and Welty’s model.

  8. In a previous work, Anderson does articulate the Creator-creature distinction in terms of an ontological difference between the two, though continues to then articulate that difference in terms of modal distinctions. Taking his cue from Thomas Aquinas (without necessarily adopting other aspects of Thomistic metaphysics), Anderson argues that, “…consequently, while objects in the natural order reflect the likeness of their transcendent cause, they do so only imperfectly—and very imperfectly. Thus when we affirm that ‘Socrates is wise’ and ‘God is wise’ we do not employ the predicate ‘is wise’ in precisely the same sense. Among other differences, the quality said to be exemplified by Socrates exists independently of him—for there could have been wisdom even if Socrates had never existed—yet the same cannot be said of God’s wisdom” (Anderson 2007, p. 233). Emphasis original. God possesses wisdom it in an independent mode, while Socrates possesses it dependently.

  9. See note 6.

  10. Along with this, of course, is the distinction between theologia vera and theologia falsa. The former of which refers to theology done by the regenerate, whereas the latter is the inevitable product of unregenerate theological reflection. The work of Franciscus Junius was recently translated: see Junius (2014).

  11. Van Asselt (2002, p. 328). This precipitates a tendency within the Reformed orthodox to “shy away from the identification of a theologia archetypa and discuss only revealed theology.” (Muller 1987, vol. 1: p. 131) Van Asselt (2002) notes on the same page that Junius “shows no hesitancy in using the term ‘theology’ univocally for the knowledge of God himself and human knowledge of God.” This, however, is a bit misleading because it does not mean that Junius thought that God and creatures share the same content of theology, but rather that the word “theology” can be predicated properly (proprissime) of God’s self-knowledge. Therefore, in Muller’s judgment “Turretin’s view [of the impropriety of referring to God’s self knowledge as theology] …better reflects the logic of predication in view of the impossibility of a univocal use of the term theology in discussing the relationship between God’s self-knowledge and our knowledge of God—and, of course, neither Junius nor Turretin intended to imply the possibility of rational ascent to perfect knowledge of God.” (Muller 1987, vol. 1: pp. 131–132).

  12. Van Asselt (2002, p. 328). Emphasis mine. See also Muller (2010). One can thus say that ectypal theology is an approximation of archetypal theology, enabling true predication of the archetype without opening univocal access.

  13. Van Asselt (2002, pp. 328–329). Ectypal theology as existing in the mind of God is called theologia simpliciter dicta and as accommodated to creatures is called theologia secundum quid.

  14. Even in heaven, creatures can only know God as he is in voluntary condescension. See Bavinck (2004, p. 109).

  15. Emphasis mine. Horton explicitly notes Junius, p. 54 n. 2. See also Horton (2007), especially pp. 142–148.

  16. That is, God as Eimi (I Am) is more basic than God as Creator. The latter already assumes the free choice of God to condescend and to create.

  17. Oliphint (2012, pp. 89–90). Oliphint (2012) also follows Van Asselt and Junius self- consciously, on pp. 90 n. 2, 123 n. 86, and 244–245.

  18. See also Van Til (2008, pp. 70–71).

  19. Not to be confused with a Thomistic doctrine of analogy: “…virtually all of the formulators of Protestant theology denied the the Thomist analogia entis and declared that no proportion exists between the finite and infinite (finite et infinite nulla proportio).” Muller (1987, vol 1: p. 132). Likewise, Horton (2011, p. 56): “Affirming God’s incomprehensible majesty, the Reformers and their scholastic heirs embraced the doctrine of analogy but offered a critical revision. Instead of our speculative ascent from the familiar to the less familiar, choosing our own analogies, we must restrict our thinking to the analogies that God offers us by his condescending grace…Therefore, we do not use our own analogies to climb the ladder of contemplation; rather, God uses analogies from the world he created to communicate with us.” See also Bosserman (2014, p. 111).

  20. Perhaps one may liken this point of contrast with the earlier Reformed scholastic debate to which I refer in note 11.

  21. Horton (2011, p. 56). Even though there is a distinction between thoughts and propositions, Oliphint seems to refer to the content (propositions) contained in thoughts when he says “the thoughts we think, even when in conformity with God’s, are still at root eikonic. They are patterned after his thoughts….but they are never identical to his thoughts.” Oliphint (2012, p. 92).

  22. So, Bosserman (2014): “… the self-contained Trinity must reside above time and logic in such a way that each one began to exist at a specific point in history, and neither is allowed to take precedence over God.” p. 140.

  23. See also Muether (2008, pp. 104–105).

  24. Poythress (2013, p. 139). Emphasis mine. Also, “we as Christians confess loyalty to God as the foundation of the very categories that underlie the logic that we develop.” Poythress (2013 p. 707 n. 16).

  25. “The gift of logical reason was given by God to man in order that he might order the revelation of God for himself. It was not given him that he might by means of it legislate as to what is possible and what is actual… The non-Christian does not believe in creation. Therefore, for him, the law of contradiction is, like all other laws, something that does not find its ultimate source in the creative activity of God.” Van Til (2007, pp. 48–49).

  26. Van Til (2007, p. 32). Emphasis original. “…[T]he facts of the universe, if they are to be rationally intelligible, are ultimately dependent not upon the law of contradiction as man knows it, but upon God’s internal coherence that lies behind the law of contradiction.” Van Til (2007, p. 82). Emphasis mine.

  27. “We affirm that the propositions expressed or contained by human thoughts should be identified with divine thoughts.” Anderson and Welty (2013, p. 9).

  28. Anderson (2007) affirms something close to the two-level articulation of analogical predication when he states, in an earlier work, that “it makes sense to suppose that there are considerable qualitative constraints on our understanding. For example, although we might have some grasp of God’s goodness, the concept of goodness that each of us applies to God will surely be limited and imperfect at points; indeed, the fact that many Christians disagree about what God’s goodness entails suggests that most, if not all, suffer from qualitative conceptual inaccuracies… Cognitive realism, coupled with Christian theism, implies that human concepts are approximations to those concepts (or whatever divine analogue may be) by which God comprehends himself.” (p. 240) One may wonder, however, whether TCRM would look substantially different (and more like AEM) if this sketch of analogical predication is applied to the laws of logic as much as Anderson applies it to divine goodness.

  29. It seems that texts like Colossians 1:15–20 and Phil. 2:6–11 provide warrant for beginning with the ontological Trinity in one’s theological reflections.

  30. More on this, below.

  31. There is also the suspicion (rightly or wrongly) of whether knowledge by way of propositions requires a discursive mode of thought. Turretin (1992) for example, says that God knows “Undividedly, because he knows all things intuitively and noetically, not discursively and dianoetically (by rationation and by inferring one thing from another)… Distinctly, not that by a diverse conception he collects diverse predicates of things, but because he most distinctively sees through all things at one glance so that nothing, even the most minute, can escape him.” (Vol. 1, p. 207) Emphasis mine.

  32. Oliphint (2012) articulates this concern when he asserts that, prior to creation, “… there were no necessary propositions that had to obtain. There was only God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the one God. There was no ‘2 + 2 = 4,’ no ‘all things red are colored’; there was God and his triune, essential character—nothing else.”(p. 69) In short, “Logic, like all else save God himself, is created.” Oliphint (2007, p. 285). See also Bosserman (2014, pp. 101, 117 and 129).

  33. Bosserman (2014) particularly denies the validity of locating “our laws of logic into the very nature of God” p. 99. See also p. 117.

  34. Though not exactly talking about propositions, Bavinck (2004) exemplifies the sort of sensitivity that proponents of AEM have in mind: “On earth we cannot obtain a direct, immediate knowledge of God and his thoughts but only a mediate knowledge ‘through and in a mirror.’ The sentiments of mystics, rationalists, and ontologists, accordingly are not theistic but pantheistic. They confuse the light of reason with the light of God, the universal truths in us with the ideas in the mind of God, our ‘logos’ with ‘the Logos of God,’ the order of being with the order of our knowing… all our knowledge of God is obtained indirectly and bears an analogical character.” Vol. 2: pp. 69–70. See also p. 110. Emphasis mine.

  35. See Bosserman (2014, p. 117).

  36. In this way AEM is congenial with Anderson (2007).

  37. Bavinck (2004) conceives of God’s rationality as perfect self-knowledge from texts like 1 John 1:5: “Implied in the designation ‘light’ is that God is perfectly conscious of himself, that he knows his entire being to perfection, and that nothing in that being is hidden from his consciousness.” Vol. 2: p. 191.

  38. Classically speaking, then, for AEM the laws of logic enjoys the modality of hypothetical necessity rather than absolute necessity, which God (and his rationality) alone enjoys. See Oliphint (2012, pp. 66–71).

  39. Also, Oliphint (2007): “Because God is consistent with himself, man must be consistent, not fundamentally with man, or with logic, but with God. God is our final reference point. Not logic. It is true that God cannot resolve a ‘bona fide contradiction’ if by ‘bona fide contradiction’ we mean any proposition or ‘fact’ that is opposed to the nature and character of God.” (p. 286).

  40. See also Oliphint (2012, pp. 238–241); Ross (1986).

  41. In contrast to Anderson and Welty (2011).

  42. Divine revelation here refers to both general and special revelation, along with the covenantal obligation to interpret general revelation in light of special revelation. See Van Til (1967).

  43. Cf. Bosserman (2014, pp. 134–135).

  44. Once one takes the doctrine of perichoresis into account, the mystery inherent in Trinitarian predication is amplified, and provides a further point of apparent contradiction. See Tipton (2002, pp. 297–302).

  45. E.g., Maxwell (2012), Sutanto (2014), and Oliphint (2006a, b).

  46. See Sudduth (2009, p. 32).

  47. This is not to say that each and every universal finds a strict analogue in God as the archetype. Something in the neighborhood of what Brian Leftow discusses as ‘secular truths’ and ‘brute preferences’ is relevant here: Creation reflects God, perhaps, minimally or maximally. See Leftow (2012, pp. 25–27, 253–265).

  48. In any case, one may be able to show that AEM be indeterminate with respect to the ontology of propositions.

  49. Cf. Weaver (1971). One may also anticipate this objection from around the bushes represented by Yandell (2014).

  50. Leftow (2012, pp. 11–21). Though Leftow does not endorse AEM, it seems that proponents of AEM share some of Leftow’s concerns.

  51. Cf. Vanhoozer (2012, pp. 8–23).

  52. Cf. Maxwell (2014).

  53. This is amplified especially when one takes into account the noetic effects of sin. See Sutanto (2014).

  54. Also, see note 12 and 28, above.

  55. I would like to thank James Anderson and Scott Oliphint for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Sutanto, N.G. Two theological accounts of logic: theistic conceptual realism and a reformed archetype-ectype model. Int J Philos Relig 79, 239–260 (2016).

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