October 04, 2014

Bible and principle of non-contradiction

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 2, 2014

Bible and principle of non-contradiction

Does the Bible teach that the principle of non-contradiction applies to God? I believe so.

The principle of non-contradiction says that nothing can both be and not-be at the same time and in the same sense. For example, I cannot be both taller than my wife and not taller than my wife at the same time and in the same sense (I'm 6' 3" and Carla is 5'). A square cannot be both a square (a figure with four equal straight sides) and a circle (a figure with no straight sides) at the same time and in the same sense.

But does the principle of non-contradiction apply to the physical world only, not the spiritual?

I think that answer is no, for (at least) three reasons.

First, the God of the Bible reveals God in such a way that presupposes the legitimacy of the principle of non-contradiction with respect to God.

God reveals Himself as I AM, not I AM NOT. That is, God reveals Himself as Being, as opposed to not being.

Significantly, via Jesus, God reveals Himself as the Truth, as opposed to the false; the Way, as opposed to not the way; the Life, as opposed to not life. God is also revealed as never changing, as opposed to changing—trustworthy, not untrustworthy.

Moreover, Jesus—God—is revealed as the Logos, as opposed to the non-Logos. (Logos means word or rational principle.) And Jesus is revealed as the Christ, not the anti-Christ.

Second, the truth of the principle of non-contradiction is intuitively obvious.

Think again about my first examples. It's obvious to rational intuition that I can't be taller AND shorter than my wife at the same time and in the same sense, and that a square can't ALSO be a circle at the same time and in the same sense. Surely this insight applies to concepts having to do with God.

If God exists, then it's not the case that God doesn't exist. If God is the creator, then it's not the case that God isn't the creator. If God is wholly good, then it's not the case that God is evil.

Of course God's ways are higher than our ways (and more mysterious), but, surely, if God is good, then God's ways do not contradict the good.

Third, the objection that the crucial Christian doctrine—the Incarnation—is contradictory (and thus we should embrace the logically absurd) is a failure.

Yes, Jesus is the Incarnation: Jesus is God (God the Son) and fully human. Yes, this might seem to violate the principle of non-contradiction IF we take "fully human" to mean can't be God. But doing so would be a mistake.

Consider this. Humans are fleshly creatures made in the image of God. Whereas our nature, i.e., our God-likeness (our moral, rational, relational, and creative nature) is limited, God's nature (God's moral, rational, relational, and creative nature) has no limiting properties—God is all-powerful.

Logically, though, an all-powerful being could choose temporarily not to exercise all His powers and in so doing don human flesh. Significantly, this allows for the possibility that Jesus can be fully God (God the Son) and, because He is God, also be a limited fleshly creature made in the image of God—fully human.

Mystery doesn't require logical absurdity.

As the parent who limits him/herself to interact with a child at the child's level doesn't cease to be a parent, so it goes with God.

Thus, the principle of non-contradiction applies to God because (1) God says so, (2) it's intuitively obvious, and (3) the objection that the Incarnation violates it fails.

The important question now is: Why think the man Jesus is also the God described in the Bible? Enter: the evidence for Jesus' claims to deity plus the evidence for His bodily resurrection—a sign that vindicates His claims.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

Further reading on the principle of non-contradiction: 

Further reading on the concept of Incarnation: 

Further reading on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection:

September 18, 2014

Just war and justly pro-life

Heavily armed RCMP officers enter a residence during manhunt
 for shooting suspect in Moncton (New Brunswick),
 Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Andrew Vaughan/ THE CANADIAN PRESS)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 18, 2014

Just war and justly pro-life

A friend asked me the following question to challenge my non-pacifist, just war position: How can you be consistently pro-life without also being against the use of lethal force to resolve conflict?

Here's how: by simultaneously applying two distinctions: (1) absolute vs. prima facie; (2) innocent life vs. life that's forfeited the right to life.

Human life has great worth, but the prohibition against its destruction isn't absolute. Sometimes, say, when a murderer is engaged in a shooting spree in a school, a police officer may have to kill the murderer—and this killing is just.

Yes, the shooter has the right to life, but it's a prima facie right, not an absolute right.

“Prima facie” is Latin for first appearance. In ethics it means duty X is what apparently ought to be done, unless a more pressing duty Y outweighs it. For example, I have a duty to keep my promise to Morgan to meet him for lunch, unless I must save Patricia from drowning while on my way to meet Morgan.

Also, police officers have the duty to protect school shooters, but the duty to innocent students being shot outweighs the duty to the murderer. If lethal force—killing the shooter—is required to defend the lives of innocents, then the shooter forfeits his right to life.

Biblical history provides ample evidence of people who engaged in activities that forfeit their right to life. There are occasions when people are justly killed by God either by natural means (e.g., flood, pestilence) or by human agents of God's wrath (e.g., the sword of government).

In other words, humans are made in God's image and thus have great worth, but they aren't God and thus don't have absolute worth.

Sadly, if we allow evil aggressors (who require lethal force to be stopped) to murder innocents, that is, if we preclude all lethal police/ military interventions, then we sacrifice innocent lives—people who haven't forfeited their right to life—to evil forces. This is neither pro-life nor just.

But wait: what about abortionists who kill innocent children? Should I apply lethal force to the abortionists? My answer: No.

There is still some reasonable debate or doubt about whether the unborn in the early stages is an actual human being or person (though the reasonableness of this doubt is shrinking as more science and careful thinking are done), and there are still peaceful means that have promise of success to enable the protection of the unborn (e.g., education, law reform, crisis pregnancy centres).

But in the case of, say, ISIS, there is no reasonable doubt that innocent human persons are being murdered. And there is no reasonable doubt that there aren't any wholly peaceful means which will actually enable the urgent protection of the men, women, and children who are presently being murdered and targeted for murder. Also, ISIS is clear that the only "peace" it wants is a peace in which all opposition is destroyed.

Unlike the abortion situation, then, with ISIS we have a case in which killers are clearly on a murderous rampage—a rampage whose explicit murderous intent, brutal track record, and dangerous growth make it not at all amenable to being stopped by a non-lethal force.

But how does the just war view relate to the pro-life view on euthanasia? I think that here we have to keep in mind that whereas ISIS has engaged in acts which forfeit their right to life, the elderly and disabled and terminally ill haven't engaged in acts that forfeit their right to life.

Thus, by making two careful distinctions—absolute vs. prima facie, and innocent life vs. life that's forfeited the right to life—one can be consistently pro-life and pro-just-war.

Surely it's reasonable and good—and pro-life—to favour the judicious, wise use of lethal force to protect innocent lives—especially the weak and vulnerable—from murderous aggressors. That's why we arm police officers.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

September 04, 2014


By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, September 4, 2014


I've been thinking about Islam lately, to better understand ISIS/ the Islamic State. Let's look at four topics: Jesus and Muhammad, jihad, "religion of peace," and terrorists.

1. Jesus and Muhammad

Jesus is an important prophet, according to Islam, but Jesus is not God in human flesh, contrary to Christianity.

Also, Jesus didn't die on the cross (somebody else did) and Jesus didn't resurrect bodily after death—all this according to the Qur'an, written in another country 600 years after the events. (Note: Christianity's New Testament evidences are closer to the events geographically and in time because they contain accounts of eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses.)

The focus of Islam is the man Muhammad, who is (allegedly) God's latest and greatest prophet. Significantly, whereas Jesus shed his own blood for others, Muhammad shed the blood of others.

2. Jihad

Is jihad a holy war against unbelievers (infidels) or merely a personal spiritual struggle? Consider these observations from Irving Hexham, a well-respected professor of religious studies at University of Calgary, from his book Understanding World Religions (2011):

"[T]he popular milk-and-water version of Islam found in most religious studies texts [in Western universities] is, to say the least, misleading. Jihad is indeed primarily a form of warfare in defense of Islam [i.e., it's not merely a spiritual/ personal struggle against one's carnal desires]."

According to Hexham, "This means that, however much one may disagree with the methods of people like Osama bin Laden [ISIS, etc.], it is highly misleading to dismiss them as 'extremists' or argue that they 'don't understand Islam,' as some writers suggest."

Hexham adds: "The truth is, bin Laden [ISIS, etc.] have decided that Islam is under threat from the West and that Western values are undermining Muslim societies. Therefore, in their own eyes, they are fighting a legitimate war, or jihad, in defense of Islam."

3. "Religion of peace"

When Muslims talk about Islam being a "religion of peace," peace isn't what we in the West usually think. It's not live and let live.

Hexham writes: "For Muslims, Islam is a religion of peace, because the imposition of Islamic rule brings areas under Muslim control to peace and order in accordance with Islamic teachings about the will of God. Thus it is a Pax Islamica, which imposes peace by dominating all opponents by force or arms."

Hexham concludes: "it seems clear that to say that 'Islam is a religion of peace' is not the same thing as saying that 'Islam is a peaceful religion.'"

4. Terrorists

So, are all Muslims terrorists? Answer: No, definitely not.

Zane Pratt, a Christian missionary to central Asia, is author of the article, "10 things every Christian should know about Islam." Pratt (correctly) observes: "The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists."

Pratt adds: "In fact, normal Islamic religious law forbids the intentional killing of non-combatants in battle. It also forbids suicide. It's a small minority view that allows these things, and it's a small minority who engage in terrorist activities."

But let's pause a moment. According to Pratt, "it's a small minority [of Muslims] who engage in terrorist activity." Yet, according to Hexham, it is "highly misleading to dismiss them [this small minority] as 'extremists' or argue that they 'don't understand Islam.'"

Enter: the need to think carefully.

Review: (1) Islam denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who spread his message peacefully, but Islam admires Muhammad, who spread his message violently; (2) those Muslims who take jihad as killing non-Muslims understand Islam and are not extremists; (3) Islam, as a "religion of peace," tends to view "peace" as submission to, i.e., forceful domination by, Islamic rule; (4) the vast majority of Muslims are (truly) peaceful.

What should we do? I recommend that we show love to Muslims, pray for them, discern truth, plus speak truth with gentleness and respect.

I also recommend Nabeel Qureshi's book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (2014).

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)