REVIEWING LOGIC: A REFORMED APPROACH TO THE FOUNDATION OF WESTERN THOUGHT
Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought. Vern Sheridan Poythress. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2013. 733 pp. $45.00. ISBN 978-1-4335-3229-0.
This magnificent tome is an introductory textbook to Logic, written by the eminent Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, Vern Sheridan Poythress. In this book review I will begin by explaining what the purpose of the book is and how the book is divided. This will be followed by some comments as to whether this book accomplishes its purpose, and as to how it compares to other books which have the same purpose. Finally, I will note some of the difficulties that I noticed in this book, as well as some questions that came to mind as I read this book.
This book is designed to be a complete introduction to Logic, written from the perspective of reformed presuppositionalist theologian. Though it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the book, this book was most likely designed to be a textbook for courses in Logic at Westminster Theological Seminary. The book contains a detailed Table of Contents, a Bibliography, a General Index and an Index of scripture passages, which make this book very easy to use.
The book is divided into four main sections. The first section deals with what the author calls “Elementary Logic”, but it is almost entirely the philosophy of logic, though the author might prefer the term theology. The author spends almost the entire first section explaining how logic should be understood by a person who adheres to a Christian theistic worldview, and why all non-Christian worldviews have inadequate notions of logic. For example, he struggles with attempts to show that Logic reveals God’s nature, and that logic is essentially Trinitarian. He also struggles with explaining some of the fundamental philosophical notions that influence the way philosophers understand logic, such as the problem of universals, the question of analogy, and the history of philosophical thought on logic in general. A second aspect that is a little bit frightening is the blatantly obvious lack of references for many of the general claims that he makes about non-Christian concepts of Logic. The book is filled with references to other reformed authors, but, even though he mentions important names in Logic, such as Aristotle, there is a lack of references to Aristotle’s works. These major difficulties are what makes the book as long as it is, are found in each of the following sections, and diminish the overall quality of the book as a Logic textbook. Each section and subsection is introduced by an attempt at explaining how the Christian Theistic worldview should influence our understanding of the notions of Logic that are to be explained. The second section deals with Propositional Logic. The third section deals with Predicate and the various forms of Mathematical logic. The fourth section is a series of appendices which provide extra proofs for the three previous sections as well as a section dealing with contemporary questions on logic. Each chapter finishes with a number of questions that could be used by a teacher in a class on logic.
In general this book accomplishes its purpose. It was intended to be an introduction to logic, and it is just that. It was also intended to be, in particular, a reformed presuppositionalist introduction to logic, and it is just that. As such, it accomplishes the purposes that the author set for it. The main question is, does this book accomplish its purposes well? This is probably the only introductory book that looks at logic from a specifically reformed presuppositionalist perspective, and, as such, it is unique. Anybody who wishes to understand logic from a reformed presuppositionalist perspective will find that this book is the best book that they can get a hold of on that subject. However, as an introductory textbook to logic, it ranks very low on the list of good introductory books to logic, and would be the last book that I would recommend as an introductory textbook on the subject. Many of its explanations are vague, and the author spends more time defending a presuppositionalist view of Logic than actually explaining the notions of logic. Furthermore, the book lacks, compared to books such as Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic and Pospensel’s Propositional Logic, an acceptable amount of practice exercises, as well as a correction table for practice exercises. Some of the subjects are treated in such a summary manner as to make the chapter on them of very little use. As such, this book is of great use to anybody who wishes to have an introduction to presuppositionalist logic. However, it is of little use to anybody who actually wishes to learn how to use logic.
Due to limitations in space, I will simply note a number couple of difficulties with this book, and a number of questions that the attentive reader is left asking. First of all, the author claims that there is a properly Christian logic, and then sets out to develop it. Of course, anybody who has already studied logic, either in a secular institution, or in a non-reformed institution, will immediately notice that the only parts of this book that are different from “Non-Christian” logic are those claims that are specifically presuppositionalist, and which have absolutely nothing to do with the actual practice of logical thinking. Secondly, his definition of Autonomy, “making human judgment and human standards for judgment an ultimate touchstone in one’s life”, which he applies to all non-Christian worldviews, seems to be an instance of the fallacy of Sweeping generalization, and, in many instances is quite simply false. Many non-Christians have been seeking a higher standard, claiming that a standard based upon human thoughts is not enough, such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many of the great philosophers. Thirdly, the well-known Van Tillian claim that all reasoning is ultimately circular is asserted without proof. It is a presupposition of presuppositionalism, and it seems strange to begin a book that is supposed to help us to reason properly by explaining that all reasoning is circular. A fourth difficulty is his usage of the trinity to explain the problem of Universals. Aside from the fact that this chapter is stock full of erroneous affirmations, his explanation of the Trinity (which he comes back to in an appendix) is either an instance of the fallacy of Equivocation or is straight out heresy. Some of the questions that we are left asking are: Theological presuppositions aside, what is the actual difference between a Non-Christian and a Christian Logic? Do things have natures or not, and if they do, is it possible for the Natures of things to be the immediate cause of the regularities that we experience in the world? He claims that all people deny the existence of God based upon moral considerations, and though there are a multitude of people that have done this, we are left asking whether it is possible to deny God based purely on intellectual considerations? Are Non-Christians capable of discerning between good and bad arguments? All of his claims about the character of God are based upon what the Bible says (and this is a good source), however he simply believes that the Bible is true, so the question inevitably arises, How does he “know” that God is as the Bible says that God is? Throughout much of the book, whenever he explains the “Non-Christian” position, we are left asking, Who said this, do ALL non-christians says this, and, where do they say it? Is there really a “Christian” position on the problem of Universals?
This book contains many more difficulties, inaccuracies and ambiguous statements; so much so that this reviewer is simply unable to honestly recommend this book as a course textbook for in introduction to logic. I would recommend it as a monument of presuppositionalist thinking on logic (its presuppositionalist claims are the only thing which makes this book unique). There is nothing about this book that makes it better than other, already existing, textbooks on logic, as far as teaching logic is concerned. This book is so filled with presuppositionalist presuppositions and catch phrases, with almost no support being given for these claims, that it is almost useless as an introduction to logic. We are left wondering what, if there is any, is the real difference between presuppositional logic and “regular” logic (which is practiced by non-presuppositionalist Christians and Non-Christians alike), aside from the presuppositions of presuppositionalism. It is a monumental work of presuppostionalist logic, but a horrible textbook on logic.
Vern Sheridan Poythress, Logic : A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought (Wheaton, IL : Crossway, 2013), 25, 35, 41.
Cf. Ibid., 125.
Cf. Ibid.,110, 141. He generalizes so much that many of his claims about Non-Christian thinkers are, quite simply, false. One wonders if he actually interacts with the “secular” authors that he mentions, or if he is just quoting other Presuppositionalists on the subject at hand.
Ibid., 146. Cf. 674-678.
Cf. Ibid., 53.
Cf. Ibid., 84.
Many of the great Christian thinkers have taken positions on the question of universals, and there is almost no agreement. For example, Aquinas seems to have taken a moderate realist position, Ockham and Martin Luther both took the Nominalist position, and other Christian thinkers such as Augustine seem to have taken the Extreme Realist position. The question is still open, and it seems quite pretentious and a little bit ignorant to claim that there is A Christian position on this question.