C. Matthew McMahon: The Basics of First Principles

By Dr. C. Matthew McMahon (apuritansmind.com)

Do you understand this sentence? Good. Then you are thinking, and you are applying the basic objective laws that govern the universe. That does not mean your thought constitutes what is right, it just means you are thinking and applying the basic laws of logic. You are conforming to basic laws of logic even if you do not realize it. Without those basic laws in place we would not be able to communicate. Already, at this point, you would have given up because these few sentences would have been utterly meaningless to you. Each word could have meant something totally different if you were not applying the laws of logic. They could have meant anything if those laws were not in place and you were not following them. But you press on. You continue to read in understanding what is being said with each word used. If there were a more difficult word to deal with, say the word “solipsist,” you may have to grab a dictionary and look it up. But even when you look that word up, you are still adhering to the basic laws of the universe, the basic laws of logic. You are attempting to put into practice that which is logical. Without these basic laws it is utterly impossible to communicate, understand, or know anything. John Brown said, “As the law of nature must necessarily correspond with the nature of God, who imposes it, and of men, who are subjected to it, and with their relations to each other; these must be carefully considered, in order to our obtaining a proper knowledge of it.”[1] Hopefully this will be carefully considered in this article.

The modern world is in a great dilemma, as is especially true of those all those who adhere in some sort to false religions or cultic ideology. It seems in our day that there are many who rest in subjective experience instead of objective truth. We become the center of truth and absolute truth takes a back seat to our experiential feelings or ideas. The “ego” is the center of universe, although, for some strange reason, it is blatantly ignorant that laws that it uses to defend its own subjectivity are governing it. This is as humorous as it is tragic. All of this rises as a result of the ignorance of the basic laws that govern the universe and are set in place by One that holds that reality together. To deny this would be self-defeating. Most people today are relativists (even those in the evangelical church). They believe whatever they want so long as it makes them happy. “You believe what you want and I believe what I want,” is what they say. They really do not mean that. Why? Because a simple test in thinking brings their minds back to reality and overthrows their relativism quickly. Here is an example:

Man: “I am a relativist.”

Philosopher: “No you are not and I will prove it to you in less than 30 seconds.”

Man: “Go ahead.”

Philosopher: “Take your paycheck, fill out a deposit slip for one million dollars, sign your check and have the teller deposit it at your bank for one million.”

Man: “They will not do that.”

Philosopher: “Why?”

Man: “Because it is not worth a million dollars.”

Philosopher: “Why?”

Man: “Because it is only worth $534.25”

Philosopher: “What if you believed it was worth one million and told them?”

Man: “That would not matter.”

Philosopher: Why?”

Man: “Just because I believe it does not make it so.”

Philosopher: “So much for relativism.”

Man: “Stop being Academic.”

Philosopher: “You are being Academic. I am being real.”

Not only do people hate to think in the world, but they hate to think in the church as well. Philosophy has been ridiculed as something which takes a back seat to theology. Logic is quite despised. Unfortunately, many do not understand that to engage in theology, in any form, one must apply the basic laws of logic that are often discussed and taught in the realm of philosophy. When “philosophy” is mentioned, this is not referring to the idea that people are approaching truth in some subjective interpretation. Oftentimes that is where philosophy is caricatured. When people think of philosophers they think of Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato “making up” the laws of the universe. But mere speculation is not what is meant here. Every Christian, for example, is a theologian and a philosopher. Granted, most are poor theologians and poor philosophers because they hate to think, but they are both nonetheless. Philosophers, though, if they are really trying to be good philosophers, are not attempting to create a model of the universe from subjective experience. This is usually what happens with false religions and cults based on some personal experience (take for example Islam). Rather, Philosophers are those who discover the realities already set in motion in the universe. That is why Philosophy and Theology go hand in hand, and one cannot be divorced from the other. The basic laws that govern intellectual thought are set in motion as objective realities to be followed and discovered. Even though they may be defined or discovered at one point in time, every human being, everything that lives of the planet, and everything that exists, is governed by these laws. It is helpful, though, to know that there are those thinkers out there who have helped us by systematizing these ideas in a worldview that remains objective and true. Philosophy and Logic are irreplaceable. As Clark says, “It is not an arbitrary tautology, a useful framework among others. Various systems of cataloging books in libraries are possible, and several are equally convenient. They are all arbitrary. History can be designated by 800 as easily as 500. But there is no substitute for the law of non-contradiction. If a dog is equivalent of not-dog, and if 2=3=4, not only do zoology and mathematics disappear, Victor Huge and Johann Wolfgang Goethe also disappear. These two men are particularly appropriate examples, for they are both, especially Goethe, romanticists. Even so, without logic, Goethe could not have attacked the logic of John’s Gospel…to repeat, even if it seem wearisome: Logic is fixed, universal, necessary, and irreplaceable. Irrationality contradicts the biblical teaching from beginning to end. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not insane.”[2]

This writer subscribes to Christianity. There are a number of reasons why this is true. The historical facts, the objective truth, the reality of the spoken word, infallible, inerrant Biblical data, and the like, are all objective factors that relate to the exclusivity of Christianity over and against any other religion, cult, sect, or idea that has ever existed. This writer is convinced, based on objective truth, that Christianity is true after looking over all the facts. It is the historical Jesus he is after, and the truth behind the propositions of the Bible. Others, though, do not share this opinion. As a matter of fact, most do not. However, the overall tenor of the “Christian worldview” is diametrically opposed to everything else that has been written in terms of an overall worldview. For instance, one could not believe that Christianity is simply one part of an overarching worldview that demonstrates parallelism with other worldviews. But those who would ascribe to its “likeness” to other religions have simply not read the Biblical data surrounding the exclusivity and diametrical opposition that Christianity holds over, above and against everything else. The Biblical God is very narrow-minded. The Bible is very exclusive. Cults, other world religions, and basically ignorant people, will attempt to set the teachings of Christ and the teaching of another world religion or cult side by side in order to demonstrate their compatibility. Their attempt at this is unity, but it is done in a frivolous and ignorant manner. They say “Jesus was just a good teacher like Buddha or Mohammed.” This kind of talk violates the very laws they use to talk in general. Two opposing viewpoints directly contradict one another cannot be bedfellows. The teachings of Islam and the teachings of Christianity are diametrically opposed, even on basic levels. The teachings of Buddhism and the teachings of Christianity are diametrically opposed, even on basic levels. The teachings of Buddhism and Islam are diametrically opposed, even on basic levels. Their basic messages are different. Obviously there are many who would like to simply overlook that, or attempt to explain this radical discontinuity away by saying that the overall message is similar. They like to say that “the “god principle” out there sent different messengers to teach us – Buddha, Mohamed and Jesus are just teachers who understood the “god principle” and tried to communicate such things to us. Those who reject that idea are simply misrepresenting or reinterpreting the reality that is out there.” Again, they are simply not looking at the facts. For instance, if Buddha says “all paths lead to heaven” and Christ says “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” these two thoughts are diametrically opposed to one another. They are not compatible. Not even the overall message of Buddhism (enlightenment), which is atheistic, is compatible with the Christian worldview which is narrow-minded, monotheistic, and Trinitarian. The problem is, people do not like to study in order to debate well, and they desire unity and conformity over reality. But, this simply denies the basic laws that govern us all, no matter what we believe. It is the rejection, or attempted rejection of those basic laws, that brings people to the point of “false unity” and not diversity when it comes to setting standards.

To understand that the laws that govern the universe and all thought affect worldviews, we must first look at the rules of logic. Certainly there are those who have scrapped the laws of logic. They believe that nothing is knowable. However, you will find them writing books about what is not knowable. You will even find them attempting to explain to you that nothing is knowable. Like Immanuel Kant who said that the “other world” is not knowable, but then tells us all about what we cannot know. And if such a world did exist, and is not knowable, how would Kant know anything about it at all, or even that it exists? That is a contradiction. If it were not knowable, how would anyone explain it? The basic laws of logic stand firm even though many would desire to do away with them. It is the basic laws of logic that will divide varying viewpoints if people simply engaged in rational thought, and not subjective lunacy. Nor is it allowable to redefine the laws to suit one’s own desires, as Hegel did. Instead of being faced with the law of non-contradiction, he redefined it, and entered into contradiction saying such “synthesis” is acceptable. However, Hegel’s dialectic does not last long under scrutiny. Thesis and Antithesis are opposites. They are no complimentary. Hegel said we should rise above that. But to do so was to deny the basic laws of thought. He took the two (thesis and antithesis) and created a synthesis. Yet, the first year student of logic should be able to see right through that.

Logic consists of a set of basic principles called “first principles.” These first principles are fundamental to our knowing anything. First principles are the foundation of knowledge. If we do not ascribe to these basic principles then communication is impossible. You would never understand a word of this article if you did not engage in exercise the basic principles of logic. It would be an “impossibility” to do so. But since you have considered what has been said thus far and continue to read, you have engaged in the basic laws and seem to be following what has been so far (hopefully so). The very fact that you agree or disagree with has been said demonstrates the reality and truth, the objective absolute, that you are engaged in exercising at least four of the basic principles of logic, even if you desire to vigorously deny those laws. In denying them you actually uphold them explicitly and implicitly.

There are a number of basic laws that govern the universe as basic principles. They have been discovered not fabricated. Four of these are worthy of “introductory” notation: the law of non-contradiction (B is not non-B), the law of identity (B is B), the law of excluded middle (either B or non-B), and the law of rational inference. Without adhering to these laws of logic, it is impossible to think rightly. Logic really means, putting your thoughts in order. Without these laws it would be impossible to put your thoughts in order. Order would be irrelevant. Meaning would be irrelevant. Communication would cease. We would all become some sort of solipsist. Now you can grab your dictionary and look that word up.

What does the law of non-contradiction teach? The law of non-contradiction teaches us the following: B cannot be both B and non-B at the same time and in the same relationship. Gordon Clark defines it this way, “The same attribute cannot attach and not attach to the same thing in the same respect.”[3] For instance, a watch cannot be both a watch and tree at the same time and in the same relationship. It must be one or the other at any given time. It would be a contradiction to be otherwise. You cannot say, “I sorta believe the law of non-contradiction.” You either believe it or you enter into the absurd. Someone who does not believe the law of non-contradiction does not believe the opposite of his statement, which would immediately be self-defeating. For instance, when someone says, “all religions are the same” they certainly do not mean “all religions are not the same” at the same time and in the same relationship. That would be self-defeating. Your next-door neighbor could not be both a man and a tree at the same time and in the same relationship. He could be an actor in a play that is playing a tree, but that is not the same as actually being a man and a real tree at the same time and in the same relationship given the accidens and description of a man and a tree. Human beings are different than trees. To say otherwise is to enter into absurdity.

What does the law of identity teach? The law of identity teaches the following: When someone says a watch is a watch, they mean it is a watch. It cannot be anything other than a watch (wristwatch, grandfather, etc.). It cannot be a planet or a cup of juice. It is a watch. If it was not, then it would immediately lead us into the irrational. What we say we mean, which is why defining our terms on any given debate is vitally important. We want to identify exactly what we mean and how we mean it in order to state whatever it is we are stating in a rational manner. Without this, you could say “I am going to the beach,” but your friend could think that “you are going to the theater.” The law of identity will not allow us to enter into the irrational, especially upon the foundation of defining our terms adequately – something many today have a very hard time doing.

What does the law of the excluded middle teach? The law of excluded middle teaches the following: Something is either B or non-B. This means that something has to be one thing or another. It cannot be both. It cannot be in the middle (a mix) or it would be something else than what it is. This is what Hegel denied ferociously, but failed in his attempts to make his ideas work because no one needed to believe him.

What does the law of rational inference teach? The law of rational inference may be easily understood in this syllogism: Major premise: all men are mortal. Minor premise: Socrates is a man. Conclusion: Socrates is mortal. You may have heard this before. We do have to keep in mind that we are finite and may not necessarily have all the information we may need to completely understand the propositions. That is where our studiousness must be through in any definition of description if what we are saying or purporting. Socrates may be a fictional character making the syllogism untrue. But in light of the fact that we know we are not omniscient, and all things being equal, we should be able to infer the logical structure of the syllogism with reasonable assurance that we have inferred correctly. But this may only be inferred if the other first principles are also adhered to. All of them work together. The law of rational inference teaches that if premise A and B are valid, then, by what Martin Luther called resistless logic, that conclusion C follows. It monitors inferences between premises and conclusions, like a referee who blows the whistle when there is a fault in the game. When the players are off sides the referee blows the whistle on them. When the syllogisms do not compute we must necessarily call them fallacies. Without these concepts, speech and communication would be impossible. God is as much bound to these as we are since they originated with Him. We simply discover these truths as we attempt to communicate. They are objective realities set over us to govern us. As Ronald Nash states, “Inconsistency is always a sign of error, and the charge of inconsistency should be taken seriously.”[4] Unfortunately people are unaware of this, and when made aware, they do not take it seriously. They revel in blatant contradiction.

Epistemology, or the basis of knowing, is what this article is basically setting down. How do we know? Many have heard what Descartes’ said, “I think therefore I am.” He believed in a certain kind of rationalism that may be summarized in this statement, “some human knowledge does not arise from sense experience.” This is over an against Empiricism which teaches, “all human knowledge arises from sense experience.” However, Descartes’, and others like him, have rejected the idea that the law of non-contradiction limits God. He believed an omnipotent being, like God, someone wholly “other” than human beings which are dependent upon basic laws, can do anything, including violate the law of non-contradiction. He believed that the omnipotent Being could have created a world where 2 + 2 = 4 is not true. Obviously, this does contradict the law of non-contradiction. The problem is, many today are following Descartes into absurdity. Why? First, it is impossible to argue with Descartes, and consequently for him to argue with anyone else, if he believes the law of non-contradiction is breakable. Not only is he violating the law, but he is also violating the basic nature of God, which he claimed could be found and upheld in the Bible. Second, the Bible says there are things God cannot do; i.e. lie, sin, etc. For example, as those who would say “Can God create a rock so big that he cannot lift it?” This question is blatant denial of the law of non-contradiction. It is not a rational question to make since it purports the possibly of an impossible action. It is self-defeating. It is the same as asking, “Is there such a thing as a square circle?” The answer is no, in any age, in any dimension, and in any state of being. Rather than adhering to Descartes’ fallacious and deviant rationalism, it may be more helpful to assist Thomas Aquinas in his statement, “I am therefore I think.” This is foundationalism which adheres to the basic laws of logic. If we are to follow those like Descartes (and many today who follow sects and cults who teach the same thing Descartes did) then we will enter into the realm where nothing is really significant. If Descartes is right, if those who say Christianity is just like everything else out there, violating the law of non-contradiction, then anything goes. In reality, though, “anything goes” really translates into the unintelligible. God would not only be responsible for creating situations he cannot handle because he is not bound to consistency in the basic laws, but he can also handle situations which he cannot handle. That would be “consistent” [sic] with what some violating the law of non-contradiction would believe. But again, how could they believe it, for every time a sentence is written to define their belief in violating the law, or allowing such a violation, we could enter in toreductio ad absurdum infinitum.

Where do these laws originate? They originate in the mind of God. They do not originate in us. We are endowed with a priori ideas, innate ideas and concepts, not actual knowledge, that give us the tools to adhere to first principles. For instance, though we take for granted the first principles, we must discover them, or learn them, in a systematized fashion. Yet, even though we discover or learn them, we still have been given the proper tools of thinking and certain innate concepts that allow us to function in thought in regard to the first principles. Take for example the idea of “sameness.” The empiricist will take two identical rods and place them side-by-side on a table. He will study them, measure them, and empirically observe all that is observable about them. However, if he did not have the innate form of “sameness” a priori, he would never come to the conclusion of the “sameness” of the rods, or their likeness because he would never be able to create, or fabricate the concept of “sameness.” Certain innate ideas allow us to look at two relatively “same” rods made of wood, one foot long, one inch thick, the same color, etc., and we conclude they are the same because we have the concept of sameness innately implanted in our minds. But the laws of logic are not innate. If they were, everyone would be on the same page about truth and error. If we were all endowed with the unmistakable tool of the law innately, then we would never violate it. However, as history demonstrates, people have consistently taught inconsistent ideas (like Descartes, Kant, Hegel, etc.). Thought we are not filled with logical syllogisms at birth, logic is an important part of the way we should think. Gordon Clark said, “Logic is not psychology. It does not describe what people think or how they usually reach conclusions; it describes how they ought to think if they wish to reason correctly…logic concerns all thought; it is fundamental to all disciplines, from agriculture to astronautics. There are not several kinds of logic, one for philosophy and one for religion; but the same rules of thought that apply in politics, for example, apply also in chemistry.”[5]

Why is logic, or say for example, the law of non-contradiction, a law of being and not a law of thought? This is because the ontological form is basic to the foundational truth. All the logic that comes from this basic form is just that, a derivative of it, but not “it” itself. Thinking is one thing, using laws to think is also one thing, but the foundation of the law, or its ontological status is something quite different. Someone may rightly say, “I am, and so I think.” Thinking does not prove reality though. Thinking, and the thoughts derived from that act, must conform to reality by thinking rightly. We are only thinking afterthoughts, not original thoughts. They may be original to us, but even moving through a cursory glance of philosophical history proves quite the opposite. We could think we are disembodied brains on alpha Centauri where mad scientists are pricking the brain and we are simply dreaming. Are we in the Matrix here? Not at all.

Worldviews are exceedingly important. They are the final, (or at least at the time), the current perception we have of the universe. There are agnostics, rationalists, fideists, experientialists, evidentialists, pragmatists, deists, pantheists, atheists, theists, and a host of combinations in between. The reality, though, is that they cannot all be right. No one thinking in any of those camps would admit to such. That is why they hold a particular position, and that there are different positions. Even the New Agers who desire to combine us all into some relative “god consciousness” do not agree, if they are thinking, with all the other forms of thought and philosophy out there today. Many New Agers do not believe what other New Agers purport in many instances. They would like to think they do, but a brief excerpt of this kind of thinking demonstrates the nonsense of their unification. For instance, a New Ager was asked, “Do you believe in absolute truth?” Her answer was, “Yes.” Then, into the conversation she said, “My opinion is what counts. It is true for me.” This kind of thinking (non-thinking) is what demonstrates the world’s ineptness to think rationally at all today. She had not thought about everything that needed to be thought about. She did not consider everything that needed to be considered. She stopped short. She agreed that absolute truth exists, but only when it suited her. Otherwise, her entire worldview would fall to the ground. This is usually the principle reason why basic laws of first principles are rejected – they do not fit into the scheme of the relative mindset of a given individual.

Today’s worldviews have a common element – they are often personal opinion based on subjectivity. They are not objective truth and reality learned. They are “new realities” (or, rather, fantasies) fabricated and passed of as somehow special. Many of the celebrity cults and mythos ideas today are such concepts built on personal opinion and are unprovable (conveniently so). People are not applying the basic laws, the first principles of thinking and knowing, rather, they are depreciating from actually thinking through their worldview, and accepting their own personal relativistic opinion about “x”, whatever “x” is. They deny the basic laws that they take for granted in every other area of life because they do not want to submit, or be submitted, to an all-powerful God who judges man’s wickedness and deals justice.

Objective truth is that which every creature must abide in and by. Most of the time they do this without really “practically” seeing that they are doing it. For instance, when you sat down in your chair to read this article on “first principles” you assumed the words used in this article meant what they said. You followed a particular line of thinking to conclusions, based on propositions. Some of you may think the propositions are wrong. Even so, you prove that you did not have to sit down and think about first principles to put logic and thought into practice. You do that because you have innate concepts and the tools of the English language (or any language) to communicate effectively, and to be communicated to in a manner in which you understand. We use logic everyday of our lives. You would not be able to get up in the morning and walk across the floor to the fridge in order to get a drink of orange juice without it.

Being a Christian, many wonder how one can conjoin theology and philosophy. Many do not like the idea. Hopefully this has been briefly, but adequately, answered above. Is there biblical proof, though, that the two are enjoined? Does the judgment concerning the laws of logic belong to reason, and does the Bible say so? The Bible assumes logic on every page. You may have heard “why are the “therefores” there for?” The answer is that the Bible very much assumes logical thought. Thus, therefore, wherefore, so – all of them assume logic. All of them assume you are following an argument. Even the Son of God, the omnipotent Creator of the universe, is called the logic of God (John 1:1). You can check for yourself passages such as Matthew 7:15, Matthew 16:6; Colossians 2:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Hebrews 5:14 and the like. All of them attest to this. They all attest to right thinking and the law of judgment concerning “contradiction.” If you are not thinking rightly, how will it ever be that you could attest to propositional truth of any kind?

It is vital to make the distinction that logic is not only from God, but is God as well. Everywhere the Scriptures testify to the truth that God is truth and communicates truth. That is why those who hold to the inspiration of the Bible (it being inerrant and infallible) is the only consistent position, logically speaking, because of this axiom that God is truth. The axiom does not mean that God is a sentence on the page, a mere proposition, but that the truth behind such a “truism” whatever that may be, ultimately rests in the mind of God. Jesus Christ is the perfection embodiment of God. He is God, and thus, He conveys the truth of God. The law of non-contradiction is not subservient to God. It is something God is (non-contradictory) and cannot but be. God’s mind is in a constant state of knowing. He does not think progressively as we do. Logic and the laws of logic, the first principles, are not something God thinks about or through, but something He knows as true. They are part of His mind because He knows them in a state of “eternal now.” When we are born, we come to discover them, or rather, their definitions, so we may continue to think rightly. There was never a time when God failed to know logic and the first principles, or anything for that matter. God does not forget. He knows. He cannot forget. To forget, or to progressively think, would be to destroy the “goodness” of God’s mind, the logic of God. When we read that “Logic” was “in the beginning” “with” God, that does not mean “God was not Logic.” God is logic. As Gordon Clark rightly said, “God is not passive or potential substratum; he is actuality or activity. This is the philosophical terminology to express the Biblical idea that God is a living God.”[6] God and logic are the one and the same first principles. To deny this is to deny God altogether.

Read more: http://www.apuritansmind.com/apolog…

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