Logic in Its Place

The two latest installments of Kevin Bauder’s In the Nick of Time, “Shall We Reason Together?” parts one and two, raise interesting questions about the relationship between Scripture and logic. (I’ll refer to them as SWRT 1 and SWRT 2.) The essays are stimulating reading and provide valuable perspective in an area that has received little attention among biblical fundamentalists. But the articles represent only two views of the role of logic: Dr. Bauder’s view and the view he rejects as “alogicality.” A third option is available and might be a better choice.

The Alogicals

The essays refer to the philosophy that what we infer from Scripture is less authoritative than Scripture itself. People who believe this are not hard to find. But Kevin also describes the alogical philosophy as holding to the following beliefs:

  • Drawing inferences from Scripture should be avoided whenever possible (SWRT 1).
  • If we must draw an inference, we should “advocate it only in the most tentative terms” (SWRT 1).
  • Logic itself should be rejected. (SWRT 1: “To reject reason because some people reason badly is like refusing to eat with a spoon because some people dribble.”)
  • No rational thought process is occurring in the act of reading. (“Alogicals seem to assume that reading is simply a matter of running their eyes over the words on a page, upon which meaning somehow (magically?) registers itself in their minds.”) (SWRT 2)
  • “We ought not to treat inferences as if they were authoritative” at all (SWRT 2). That is, inferences have zero authority.
  • “It is wrong to impose moral requirements that are merely inferred from Scripture” (SWRT 2).
  • Reasoning should be avoided entirely. (SWRT 2: “Alogicals reason, analyze, form inductions, and draw inferences all the time. They are constantly doing the very thing to which they object.”)

Another Option

If the philosophy truly holds to these ideas, “alogical” is a good name for it. But there is another position on logic and Scripture that is neither Kevin’s nor the alogicals’. It shares most of Kevin’s view, with one important reservation. First, several points of agreement.

  1. Logic itself is not the problem. “Humans did not invent logic; they discovered it and systematized its principles. Those principles are . . . an aspect of the order that God has worked into His creation” (SWRT 1). This is well-stated. Logic is really nothing more than math with verbal symbols. When executed correctly, it just expresses what is, like 2+2=4. It’s silly to argue that there might be “another way” to approach the 2+2 problem, as though 2+2 might feel like three or five to some and we should respect their views.
  2. Extreme tentativeness in making inferences is uncalled for. We have no passage of Scripture that says it’s wrong to rob a bank, but since Scripture forbids stealing, we needn’t be shy about claiming that the Bible is against bank robbery. The same goes for abortion, Darwinian evolution, pornography, and a host of other things not specifically named in Scripture.
  3. Paul was not opposed to reason. Paul “showed nothing but respect for the sound use of logic” (SWRT 1). This is well attested. Acts 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8-9, and 24:25 are a partial list of examples. When Paul rejects the “wisdom of this world,” he is referring to a set of notions and the ways of thinking such notions force on those who hold them. He is not setting aside the activity of figuring out reality through reasoning.
  4. Believers should use logic to interpret and apply Scripture. SWRT 1 concludes, “If we hold children responsible to eat soup with a spoon, then we should hold Christians responsible to draw sound inferences from Scripture.” Certainly we should, and this is true regardless of how skilled believers are in the use of the spoon.
  5. Reading Scripture involves reasoning. Kevin asserts that the cognitive processes involved in reading are inferences, and that “we can never rightly oppose Scripture to reason” (SWRT 2). Though a definition of “inference” that includes the mere act of reading is debatable, he’s certainly correct that reading involves rational thought, and no inherent incompatibility exists between Scripture and reason. The written word is a rational form of communication.

The Sticking Point

The essays express incredulity at the idea that Scripture itself holds a superior position to anything derived from it by human beings. In SWRT 1, Kevin writes “Somehow, reasoning soundly from biblical premises is supposed to be less authoritative than appealing to the straightforward statements of Scripture.” SWRT 2 faults alogicals for insisting that we may not “proclaim ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ unless we have a direct, verbatim Scripture to quote” and later adds, “We can never suggest that we prefer the plain statements of Scripture to inferences drawn from the text.” But recognizing the uniquely superior authority of the words of Scripture is not novel or amazing; nor does it require that we reject all inferences. Here’s why.

First, logic and “human execution of logic” are not the same thing.

Truly logic itself is part of the created order and no more “human” than gravity, but the phrase “human logic” is useful in the sense of “human thought processes.” These are, on the whole, not very reliable. So “logic as attempted by human beings” is not the same thing as logic itself. Math is how accounts work. “Aaron’s math” is what he writes in his check register. Unfortunately, these can be two very different things! It’s possible to take a dim view of “human reasoning” relative to the words of Scripture but still not reject logic entirely.

In SWRT 1, Kevin observes that “some people reason badly.” This understates the situation. Most people reason badly, and nobody reasons perfectly. When it comes to spooning the soup out, we’re all working with palsied hands. There is nothing wrong with the spoon, to be sure, but our ability to use it declines rapidly with the complexity of the soup.

To put it another way, most people can add two and two, but when we’re dealing with complex ideas represented by symbols in complex relationships we are less able to claim with certainty that what we have done is really math (logic). 2+2=4 is one thing. Newtonand Schrodinger are something else. [1] It’s one thing to say the equation is authoritative and another thing entirely to claim that, having calculated it, we have an authoritative answer, a “sound inference.” Sound inferences from Scripture theoretically carry the same authority as Scripture. The trouble comes in arriving at a sound inference and knowing for sure that we’ve done so. And since God has not inspired our inferences, He has not authorized us to claim they carry the same authority as His word.

Second, authority is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

Authority is not binary. Claiming “thus saith the Lord” belongs only to the words of Scripture is not the same as saying the inferences we draw from Scripture have zero authority. They have less authority, but less is not zero; it’s just less.

Since human ability to do logic is tainted, the results of the inference process are always in some doubt. Sometimes the doubt is very small. When we are inferring from Scripture on a two-plus-two level, we don’t have to belabor the authority-loss in our answer. But when the reasoning is more complex, the likelihood of error increases, and the authority we may claim diminishes. Few would argue, for example, that the idea of a pretribulation rapture has as much authority as the idea that God created the world.

But even very clear inferences are less authoritative than the sacred text. Otherwise, why not add them to Scripture? Shouldn’t there be an eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not abort unborn babies”? We all believe this is a sound inference, but it does not have the same authority as Scripture because God did not inspire it, and the fact that He did not inspire it means, at best, it has an authority nearly equal to that of Scripture. We may proclaim it as the teaching of Scripture, but we are not free to claim it is equal to Scripture. We may not put it in the mouth of God by claiming “Thus saith the Lord.”

Third, the inevitability of inference does not require ascribing equal authority to inferences.

In SWRT 2 Kevin points out that the act of reading itself involves reasoning. But then the essay concludes that “we can never suggest that we prefer the plain statements of Scripture to inferences drawn from the text.” This is a non sequitur. Admitting that reading requires thinking does not force the conclusion that the understanding I arrive at when I read is just as authoritative as the words themselves. Far from it. Reading comprehension is a skill that varies a great deal from person to person, and nobody can claim to correctly understand what he reads 100 percent of the time. So the fact that reading is a rational process argues in favor of preferring the “plain statements of Scripture to inferences drawn from the text.” Unless we’re prepared to argue that there is no difference between what is written and what we understand it to mean, we must maintain that the two have different degrees of authority and infallibility. [2]

The problem is not with the reading process itself. When we read correctly, our understanding has equal authority to what is written. But since the word is inspired and the reading only illumined, the reading process is subject to our fallibility, and we cannot equate Scripture-read with Scripture-written.

This is not to say that we should always read Scripture wondering, “Does it really say what I think it says?” But at times that reality should be front-of-mind and drive us to study. As a matter of principle, we should always maintain the distinction between God’s revelation and our perception.

Problems Solved, Problems Created

The Fundamentalism I’ve grown up with doesn’t have a tentativeness problem when it comes to claiming authority for inferences. American culture may be obsessed with non-judgmentalism and avoiding dogmatism, but Fundamentalism has been only too willing to claim “thus saith the Lord” when He has not spoken. In any case, equating inferences in general with the Scriptures they are derived from runs the risk of eroding the significance of inspiration and infallibility. What problem could be worth solving at the expense of blurring the distinction between what is inspired and what isn’t? Isn’t it better to encourage sound reasoning with the understanding that only the starting point is perfect? We certainly do not need alogicality. But we do need logic in its proper place.


1. I hear these are differential equations courtesy of Newton and Schrodinger.
2. “Infallibility” actually is binary. Something is either infallible or it isn’t. I use the term here in the sense of “likelihood of failure” or “likelihood of error.”

Aaron Blumer, a native of lower Michigan, is a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in small-town west Wisconsin where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.

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