April 2008

Top Ten Posts for February, 2008 

Here are the Top Ten April posts on Quadrivium:

  1. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  2. An Evaluation of the Bundle Theory of Substance: An analysis of a popular theory of substance advocated by the famous skeptic/empiricist David Hume
  3. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.
  4. An Evaluation of Descartes’ Claim that the Mind is More Easily Known Than the Body: A post that examines the contents of its formidable title.  (Note: this is not an argument against substance dualism, just an evalution of one of Descartes’ arguments for it).
  5. The Battle for the Mind: German and British Propaganda In the First World War: A post examing the beginnings of modern war propaganda and how it is used to direct the populace.
  6. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  7. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  8. The Nature of Truth: A two part essay that examines the meaning of truth and its underlying principles. Part 1, Part 2.
  9. There’s Hope For Porn Stars! (sort of): This post analyzes the controversial techniques of a ministry to porn stars along with the misleading statement, “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”.
  10. Two-Way Tie for Tenth: The Suffocating Soul: A two-part book review and commentary on the various ‘corsets’ and ‘tight slippers’ that suffocate our souls.  Part 1, Part 2. And Is Fantasy Escapism?:Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?

* Since I have been unable to come up with some interesting posts here lately, here is a copy of a paper that I delivered at the UNCG Honor’s Symposium in 2007.

In the First World War humanity was horrified at the advent of trench warfare, u-boats, tanks, and casualties on an unprecedented scale as nations rapidly discovered new and more brutally effective ways to slaughter one another’s citizens.  However, war-fueled innovation extended beyond the bomb-blasted battlefields of the Eastern and Western fronts; it began in the home front, as the concept and practice of war propaganda flourished.

            Governments engaged in the Great War learned very quickly that modern warfare would require the effective use of propaganda to sway public opinion.  It was no longer sufficient for a nation’s military to be the only force in conflict now the entire populace – both civilian and soldier – would combine into a national fighting force.  “Of the numerous lessons to be drawn from the First World War, one of the most significant was that public opinion could no longer be ignored as a determining factor in the formulation of public policies” (Sanders & Taylor 1).  National morale would depend on how swiftly recruits signed up and how much comfort and peace of mind citizens would be willing to sacrifice.

            In this paper, I will examine World War One propaganda as it was practiced by the British and German governments.  Each of these nations was required to increase its propaganda effort in order to continue fighting in a war that became increasingly detrimental to public morale.  Examining the propaganda techniques of both countries will reveal a great deal about their respective cultures: how much they differed and how much they shared in common.

            Even before their declaration of war on August 1, 1914, the Germans had already begun work on their own semi-official propaganda machinery, which was loosely spread throughout the various branches of German government (Welch, 22).  Early in the war German journalist Matthias Erzberger established the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst (Central Office for Foreign Services), which concerned itself with distributing propaganda to neutral nations (especially after the invasion of Belgium).  The German government also heavily employed the Wolff Telegraph Bureau as a means of international propaganda.  After the British cut Germany’s undersea telegraph cables, the Germans relied upon their wireless Nauen station (the most powerful transmitting station in the world) to continue a constant feed of pro-German news reports to the world (Welch, 22-23).

            An interesting German propaganda technique was the use of mobile cinemas.  These transportable film machines would be sent to the German front line to provide entertainment to the weary German troops.  Scattered throughout the featured films, German propagandists had inserted short newsreels that would depict recent events in a decidedly pro-German light. 

            Posters and postcards also played and important role throughout the war.  A comparison of German and British posters clearly reveals the differences between German and British culture.  While British posters relied heavily on artistic flourishes and effective slogans, German posters were much more matter-of-fact.  Indeed, German war posters were often nothing more than large, illustrated graphs which detailed the resources of Germany in comparison to other nations.  One such poster that contrasted Germany’s combined national income with Great Britain’s features a smiling, well-fed German citizen holding a much larger wallet than the sour-faced, emaciated Briton that he is compared to (Welch, 83).

German visual media excelled in adapting national mythology to the war.  This was a decided advantage in propaganda over the British.  Although Great Britain was a nation with a strong literary tradition, it lacked an epic cultural mythology like Germany’s.  German mythology in the Nordic tradition was perfectly suited for militaristic aims.  It should come as no surprise, then, that many German war posters contained images of dragons, Valkyries, and sword-wielding, Siegfried-like heroes.  Portions of the Hindenburg Line were even given such names as Siegfried and Wotan (the father of the gods in German mythology).

Germany placed far less emphasis upon recruiting in its propaganda than did the allies.  The German military was fairly large at the beginning of the war, and since the German government had effectively portrayed their struggle as defensive, the German populace was swept up in a nationalistic fervor.  Indeed, the primary manifestation of German home-front propaganda lay more in what was censored than what was said.  German media was closely scrutinized by the government so that most of what the civilian population imbibed was positive.  Defeats and setbacks were rarely revealed.

            British propaganda has been described as “an impressive exercise in improvisation” (Sanders & Taylor, 1).  The origins of Great Britain’s propaganda machine are little known, but an almost unanimous consensus exists among historians that, prior to the war, the British had no official strategy for propaganda.  However, as the war progressed, German propaganda was eventually surpassed by the effort of the British.  The Germans excelled in quantity (they were notorious for inundating neutral nations with their propaganda), but the British excelled in quality.  The British government learned, and learned quickly, the best way to sway public opinion, at home and abroad, eventually organizing an official war propaganda office titled M17.

            Perhaps the strong British literary tradition contributed to the quality of British propaganda.  A large part of what makes great literature great is the ability to use the right words to convey a precise, effective meaning.  British propaganda excelled at this.  Even the simple poster which pictures two small children asking their befuddled father, “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?” made a powerful impact on the British social conscience.  British newspapers, cartoons, and visual media were very successful in producing their desired effect.

            And what was this effect?  One word: recruitment.  Upon entering the war, Britain’s volunteer army was woefully small compared to the immense German war machine.  This required a massive number of recruits on a short notice.  Initially, recruitment did not pose a problem for the British.  Recruitment centers were literally overrun with volunteers.  However, as the war (which had been predicted to be a short conflict) progressed and casualties mounted, recruitment slowed to a trickle.  This is when propaganda began to play its crucial role.

            Much of British propaganda appealed to a sense of national honor.  Posters and pamphlets aimed to produce guilt among the men who had not volunteered for service.  From the start, however, Great Britain was forced to use its most powerful and persuasive propaganda weapon: the demonization of the enemy.  Germany also employed these tactics, but they were nothing in comparison to the flood of atrocity stories and cultural animosity that Great Britain (and later the USA) would produce.

            Early in the twentieth century the political scientist, Howard Lassell, stated, “So great are the psychological resistances to war in most nations that every war must appear to be a war of defense against a menacing, murderous aggressor.  There must be no ambiguity about whom the public is to hate” (47).  The anti-German propaganda produced by Great Britain focused the anger and anxiety of the populace into a hatred of the savage and barbaric “Huns.”  Much of this was accomplished through atrocity stories.  As Aaron Delwiche has observed, “The atrocity story implies that war is only brutal when practiced by the enemy” (Delwiche).  It is easier to kill a monster than a man.

            By far, the most powerful assortment of atrocity stories produced during the war was The Report of the Committee on Alleged German Outrages, better known as “The Bryce Report” (named after James Bryce, the head of the committee).  Contained within the pages of this officially sanctioned report were records of nearly every atrocity that it was possible for a German soldier to commit against the populace of Belgium.  The most shocking accounts were those that described the killing or torture of women and children.  While it is certain that such atrocities occurred during the war, the tendency of the report to dwell on the more sensational eyewitness accounts let to its eventually being discredited.  Translated into 30 languages by 1915, the Bryce Report stoked the righteous indignation of the allied populace and dramatically increased recruitment for the cause of defeating Germany.

            Eventually, as the war neared its conclusion, British and German propaganda was overshadowed by the enormous amount generated by the United States.  Yet, the damage had been done.  The emergence of propaganda in World War One set the standard for wars to follow, and sanctioned the deception of civilians and the demonization of the enemy.  In the end, the point is not really the differences between German and British propaganda, but in their similarities.  Both nations were driven by a philosophy that marked an important moment in cultural history: the opening of a vast gap between the “official truth” and the undisclosed reality of war.

Sources Cited

Delwiche, Aaron. “Of Fraud and Force Fast Woven: Domestic Propaganda during the First World War”, taken from < http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/propaganda.htm&gt; on March 3, 2007.

Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. New York: Oxford, 1975.

Lasswell, Harold. Propaganda Techniques in World War I. London: M.I.T. Press,1927.

M. L. Sanders and Philip M. Taylor. British Propaganda during the First World War. London: Macmillan, 1982.

 Welch, David. Germany, Propaganda, and Total War. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000.


What is the balance between putting others above yourself and standing up for yourself, particularly on the job?  When do you lay down the robe of passivity to protect your job?

Matthew 5:10-12 states, ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

What does this passage imply?  Are we to be doormats to be trodden on under any circumstance or is there a point when we stand up for ourselves?  The Christian life is about balance, and I have often wondered where these two extremes can harmonize.  It is very clear by this passage and others that we are not to push others down in our own endeavors.  Looking out for self even at the cost of hurting others is clearly unbiblical.  However, is it completely biblical to always turn the other cheek?  Jesus states in Matthew 5 that we are blessed, or counted as fortunate if people lie against us on His account and our reward in heaven will be great.  There have been instances when Christians have been lied about at work and have lost their jobs because of it.  I would like to know if they would have been right to bring the truth to light, dispelling lies and protecting their jobs as well.

I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.  Where is the balance between defending oneself and turning the other cheek, or should we even attempt to balance the two?

Leading up to our meetings with Evangelist Milton my concept of Revival was, I am sure, like most of yours in that I was praying for a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  I was looking for a “filling” of the Spirit.  In truth I was looking for a “feeling”.  This week I learned that God answers prayers asked amiss.  I had missed the mark by a mile in my perception of revival.  Allow me to explain.

            My perception of revival was that I could prepare myself and stand waiting for the Lord to move in some type of emotional or spiritual manifestation.  What I learned as Christ revealed to me through His servant Brother Milton was that revival is the opening of our spiritual eyes to the truth that is already prepared for us.  Revival is a re-focusing of our attention on the things of God, even the deeper things of God.  It is a revelation to the individual of his relationship to and fellowship with Jesus Christ the Son of God.  It is the answer made real to the question, ”Who, Am I?”

So who am I?  I am dust of the earth.  I am miry clay that the Creator is forming for His good pleasure.  I am a nothing aside of what my Lord makes of me.   I have no intrinsic value.  I am worthy only of the wrath of God.  The real question then becomes “Who am I in Christ?”  In Christ I am a child of the King, a son and an heir. (Romans 8:17)   I am of the royal priesthood. (I Peter 2:9)  I am an ambassador for Christ to the world around me. (2 Corinthians 5:20)  I am not boasting in the flesh because the flesh is reckoned dead and Christ now lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)  This is not being told to build us up but to humble us with the very thought that God so loved us… moreover God so loved me that He would give His only Son to die in my place that I might be saved and be eternally with Him. I have not believed, truly believed who I am in Christ, else I would live more victoriously.

My Christian walk with my Lord and Savior has been so sub-standard that as I look around me I see what a pathetic creature I am.  My righteousness truly is as filthy rags.  I have been trying to live this life on my own without realizing the vast resources at my disposal through Christ.  Therein lies Revival.  Revival is not an entity unto itself.  Revival is the Holy Spirit revealing the riches of Christ we have at our disposal, the vast resources He already has waiting for us since the instant He saved us.  We are sons and daughters what good thing is the Father going to withhold from us? (Mathew 7:8-11) Put down the cup, the bottle and the thimble, wade out in the river and be filled!  We settle for the few drops of blessing in our dry and parched souls when we could be drinking deeply at the Spring of Living Water.

My soul, I have been wandering in the wilderness.  God is not withholding His blessing from me on a whim.  God has not given to me before because I have not asked in faith, fully believing who I am in Christ Jesus.  “I” keep getting in the way so that God cannot bless me and mature me as one of His children.   Not I but Christ, Not I but Christ, Not I but Christ, lives in me!   O, that we I would live every second of our my life proving this truth.,  what Revival we I would have!  

The evangelist has sown the seed and he sowed liberally.  We are now left to feast on the meal the Holy Spirit has spread before us.  When anyone asks you, “Hey, did y’all have “REVIVAL?” up at the church?”  Look them right in the eye and tell them, “Yes, Praise God we did!”  Yes we did and thank God we still are.  Now we are looking for the Quickening work of the Holy Spirit.  (Revival restores life to the believer, quickening brings new life to those without it.  But that is another sermon.)

Since it’s inception just under 4 months ago, Quadrivium has reached the 5000 hit mark (and the 100 post mark counting this one).  Thanks to all contributors, commenters, regular readers, and random searchers who made this post possible!

 I Think About These Things… 

The Mayan Long Count Calendar ends December 21, 2012.  Why is this significant?  I decided to research this event and found the following:

 Is there something significant we should know about the Winter Solstice date of December 21, 2012? Yes. On this day a rare astronomical and Mayan mythical event occurs. In astronomic terms, the Sun conjuncts the intersection of the Milky Way and the plane of the ecliptic. The Milky Way, as most of us know, extends in a general north-south direction in the night sky. The plane of the ecliptic is the track the Sun, Moon, planets and stars appear to travel in the sky, from east to west. It intersects the Milky Way at a 60 degree angle near the constellation Sagittarius.

The cosmic cross formed by the intersecting Milky Way and plane of the ecliptic was called the Sacred Tree by the Maya. The trunk of the tree, the Axis Mundi, is the Milky Way, and the main branch intersecting the tree is the plane of the ecliptic. Mythically, at sunrise on December 21, 2012, the Sun – our Father – rises to conjoin the center of the Sacred Tree, the World Tree, the Tree of Life..

This rare astronomical event, foretold in the Mayan creation story of the Hero Twins, and calculated empirically by them, will happen for many of us in our lifetime. The Sun has not conjoined the Milky Way and the plane of the ecliptic since some 25,800 years ago, long before the Mayans arrived on the scene and long before their predecessors the Olmecs arrived. What does this mean?

Due to a phenomenon called the precession of the equinoxes, caused by the Earth’s wobble that lasts almost 26,000 years, the apparent location of the Winter Solstice sunrise has been ever so slowly moving toward the Galactic Center. Precession may be understood by watching a spinning top. Over many revolutions the top will rise and dip on its axis, not unlike how the Earth does over an extremely long period of time. One complete rise and dip constitutes the cycle of precession.

The Mayans noticed the relative slippage of the positions of stars in the night sky over long periods of observation, indicative of precession, and foretold this great coming attraction. By using an invention called the Long Count, the Mayans fast-forwarded to anchor December 21, 2012 as the end of their Great Cycle and then counted backwards to decide where the calendar would begin. Thus the Great Cycle we are currently in began on August 11, 3114 B.C. But there’s more.

The Great Cycle, lasting 1,872,000 days and equivalent to 5,125.36 years, is but one fifth of the Great Cycle, known scientifically as the Great Year or the Platonic Year – the length of the precession of the equinoxes. To use a metaphor from the modern industrial world, on Winter Solstice A.D. 2012 it is as if the Giant Odometer of Humanity on Earth hits 100,000 miles and all the cycles big and small turn over to begin anew. The present world age will end and a new world age will begin.

Over a year’s time the Sun transits through the twelve houses of the zodiac. Many of us know this by what “Sun sign” is associated with our birthday. Upping the scale to the Platonic Year – the 26,000 year long cycle – we are shifting, astrologically, from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The Mayan calendar does not really “end” in 2012, but rather, all the cycles turn over and start again, vibrating to a new era. It is as if humanity and the Earth will graduate in the eyes of the Father Sun and Grandmother Milky Way.[1] 

Ok, but it’s only 2008.  What is happening closer to today?  Let’s see, by law all analog broadcast television has to be digital by February 17, 2009.  On February 17, 2009 all full-power broadcast television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital. Digital broadcasting will allow stations to offer improved picture and sound quality and additional channels“.[2] 

The countdown has begun.  I wonder why February 17th was chosen?  Maybe it has to do with Michael Jordan and Paris Hilton’s birthdays?  Or Geronimo died on this date in 1909?  The odds on favorite has to be,  Pope Pious the VII declaring Saint Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television on that date in 1958?[3]   

Many have questioned why conversion to digital is necessary.  According to www.dtv.gov congress decided dtv is necessary.  (strike one: if congress thinks it’s a good thing  hold on to your wallets.)   The DTV booklet on their site such a move is necessary to free up limited bandwidth for public emergency services usage (or so the argument goes) and that is a good thing but they attached a glaring rider… and new wireless services, such as wireless broadband.” [4] 

 So who benefits?  I am not naïve enough to believe the government is doing this on my behalf, for my benefit. Why is Congress so Gung-Ho about the public viewing DTV and HD programming?  That is another thing that has bugged me for years… why do they call it programming?  And what do they mean by programming?

In an Image driven culture DTV and High Def will once again draw everyone’s attention back to focus on the altar of the entertainment gods.  They were tired of their worshippers multi-tasking and wanted undivided attention .  So will DTV make programming (however you define programming) easier?

 part 2

So, what is the magic behind all this forced conversion?  I was a radio technician in the Marine Corps and I understand a little about signaling so I’ll see if I can keep this very simple.  The exact wording on this change concerns “full” power stations specifically for the February 17, 2009 change over.  What this means is the full power “analog” station uses what they call the entire envelope for a given frequency.  It takes tremendous power to drive such a signal so it is less efficient and more costly to provide such a signal.  What the FCC is doing is telling the “full power stations that they need to broadcast digitally on only a portion of the frequency band.  The full band of any given frequency has an upper portion (upper sideband) and a lower portion (lower sideband).  The current analog signal uses both the upper and the lower portions, pushing the entire width to deliver the signal.  What will now happen is the stations will use only a portion of that signal (usually lower) to deliver the signal.  It will take less power to deliver the signal and it will “free up” the rest of the frequency for other uses.  In turn it will allow the government to auction twice a$ many license$ for the $ame amount of frequencie$.   (cha-ching!)

So why won’t your TV work if the station stays on it’s current frequency when it cuts over?  Because your receiver will not be getting the entire signal it requires in order to process the picture and audio after the change over.   This will require you to either buy a set top converter (cha-ching) or a new television (cha-ching, cha-ching).

I still wonder if there is some connection between a enhanced visual image and programming?  If normal analog signal programming produced the couch potato… what will HD programming produce?  If DTV will allow multicasting on the same frequency can HD imbed subliminal images and programming that will only be able to be detected in the subconscious?  I’m not trying to be an X-files Mulder-ite here but I think about these things.

So what will 2012 bring?  Will it bring the next phase of human evolution?  When this once in 26 thousand years event takes place and the long count calendar is “reset,” will we find we are evolving to a higher plane of existence?  If it is so then it scares me to think that the next evolution of man will be built on the foundation of our current condition.   What will be the necessary agency that drives the change?  What overwhelming need will ignite the spark for change?  Will it be: Biological? Psychological?  Spiritual?  I don’t know since I don’t watch enough Oprah.  But next year I can see it in HD.  I digress.

Order cannot come from disorder, if there is no absolute standard where we can anchor ourselves morally we cannot hope for something better to arise from that which is already broken.  Without a standard there is no difference between “is” and “ought” and each one is left to practice what works for them.  Wait, we are already there aren’t we? 

It’s 2008, the Mayan long count calendar ends in 2012.  Charlie Manson will be eligible for parole in 2012.

I think about these things


William James  One of the more original methods adopted in the battle against skepticism was the one set forth by the 19th century philosopher/psychologist, William James.  Rather than argue over whether truth can be known, James simply redefines the meaning of truth in his theory of pragmatism.  According to James, the problem with the dispute between skeptics and dogmatists is that the latter professes to know the truth while the former asserts that truth cannot be known (or that one should at least suspend judgment).  James counters both positions by asserting that truth is not a correspondence between belief and an actual state of affairs, but truth is that which ‘works’, or produces proper consequences.  In this post, I hope to demonstrate the incoherence and contradiction inherent in the pragmatic theory of truth.

In his famous lecture, “The Will to Believe”, James makes the following statement:

But please observe, now, that when as empiricists we give up the doctrine of objective certitude, we do not thereby give up the quest or hope of truth itself.  We still pin our faith in its existence, and still believe that we gain an ever better position towards it by systematically continuing to roll up experiences and think.  Our great different from the scholastic [those who hold to a correspondence theory of truth] lies in the way we face.  The strength of his system lies in the principles, the origin, the terminus a quo of his thought; for us the strength is in the outcome, the upshot, the terminus ad quem.  Not where it comes from but what it leads to is to decide…if the total drift of thinking continues to confirm it, that is what he [the empiricist] means by its being true.

In this passage, James is arguing that truth is founded on consequence rather than correspondence.  The truth of a belief is based upon where it leads as opposed to what it agrees with.  In essence, truth is what ‘works’ for the person who believes it.  However, one of the primary problems with this theory is the ambiguity of what is meant by ‘works’.  Indeed the term ‘works’ can be used in a variety of ways.  Take the following three possibilities for example:

  • 1) A belief works if it is eventually verified through empirical observation
  • 2) A belief works if it helps an individual make it through the rigors and hardships of daily life.
  • 3) A belief works if it provides the greatest good for the individual who believes it.

Now consider the following scenario:  Bob has been studying philosophy for 10 years, and he believes that he will successfully defend his dissertation for a PHD in the subject which he is preparing.  Throughout his academic career, Bob’s belief that he would someday earn a PHD has helped him to endure great personal sacrifice.  However Bob’s thesis is eventually deemed unacceptable by the examining committee and he does not receive the degree.  The question is: did this belief work?  It seems to have worked according to (2) but not according to (1).  And who knows if the belief worked according to (3)?  Perhaps Bob would never have received a job after getting his degree or maybe he would have been miserable as a philosophy professor.  The sheer ambiguity of the term is astounding.

Indeed, the very fact that the truth of belief is determined by its consequences leads to problems as well.  According to pragmatism, for a person to hold a true belief, she must know that this belief is ultimately useful in her life.  Yet does not this lead to skepticism as well?  How does one know that a belief is useful or not?  The pragmatist may answer that a belief is useful if leads to the good.  Well then, how does one know what the good is? 

Ultimately, pragmatism seems to confuse metaphysics with epistemology.  I believe that it was Bertrand Russell who observed that pragmatism confuses a test for truthfulness (epistemology) with the meaning of truthfulness (metaphysics).  A doctor can test for the flu by checking someone for a high temperature, however it does not follow that the word “flu” means “that which causes an above average temperature in the body”.  While the usefulness of a scientific model may be a good indicator of its truth, one should not confuse this with the truth of the model itself.

Finally, pragmatism appears to be self referentially absurd.  If the truthfulness of a belief is determined by whether or not the belief is useful, what if I find pragmatism, itself, to not be useful?  What if pragmatism does not work for me?  It seems that, in a case like this, the theory of pragmatism cannot even satisfy its own criteria.  If one interprets ‘useful’ as a belief that is eventually empirically verified, how then does one ever empirically verify the theory of pragmatism itself?  What observations can be made?  What tests can be administered?  And even if one could empirically verify the theory, at what point would the theory be officially ‘verified’?  Would not there not always be the chance that new empirical observations would undo the aforementioned verification?  Indeed, it appears that pragmatism, rather than being a way out of skepticism, is just a more fanciful of getting there.

(Click to see Part 1)

Once again, Aristotle was one of the first recorded ancient thinkers to discover the law of non-contradiction. It is important to note that Aristotle did not create this law, no more that Isaac Newton created the law of gravity; he merely discovered it as an unchanging principle of the universe.  In Metaphysics Aristotle states, “For the same thing to be present and not be present at the same time in the same subject, and according to the same, is impossible.” [i]  This then is the law of non-contradiction, one of the first principles of knowledge.[1]

      The law of non-contradiction can be expressed simply as such: A cannot be both B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.  In this equation the letters A and B are variables.  We may insert a number of different words in this equation to illustrate the law of non-contradiction.  For example, an object (A) cannot be both square (B) and round (non-B) at the same time and in the same sense.  Now let’s examine that proposition with the aid of figure 3 below. 

      In this diagram A represents “object”, and B represents “square”.  Non-B represents anything that is not “square” (i.e. a circle).  Non-B is what is called the “complimentary class” because it completes the proposition.  To deny the law of non-contradiction would be the same thing as to make a square-circle, which is logically impossible (we cannot even conceive of such a shape).  

      The law of non-contradiction can also be used to verify the Correspondence Theory of truth as so: A statement (A) cannot be both true (B) and false (non-B) at the same time and in the same sense.  There is as much probability as a statement being both true and false in the same way, as there is an object being round and square.  It is a logical impossibility. 

God and Logic
      It may come as a shock to many people to know that God, himself, cannot break the law of non-contradiction.  That is, God cannot create a square-circle, or make a statement that is both true and false, or create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it. 

      Many people respond to this fact by saying, “How dare you say that God cannot do something!  God can do anything He chooses. He is all-powerful!”  But the Bible, itself, plainly states that there are some things that God absolutely cannot do.  Hebrews chapter six lists two things that God cannot do.  Verse 13 states that God cannot swear by any name higher than His own, and verse 18 states that God cannot tell a lie. 

      Both of these verses give a clue to the nature of the things that God cannot do.  God cannot and will not do anything that contradicts His nature.  For example, truth is an essential property of God’s nature so it is impossible for God to lie.  In the same sense, logic is an essential property of God’s nature; He cannot do anything that is logically impossible.  God is not subordinate to logic, but rather, logic is a part of Who He is[2], and so He cannot do anything that would contradict that part of Him.  “He cannot deny Himself.” (II Timothy 2:13).

 Dialectical Logic
      Another so-called form of logic is known as Dialectical Logic.  Whereas non-contradictory logic states that reality must be either/or, dialectical logic states that reality is both/and.  In other words, non-contradiction (or excluded middle) says that a statement is either true or false, but dialectical says that a statement can be both true and false.

      Some critics of the either/or form of logic point out that it is a Western (American, English, etc.) form of logic, and that when you are dealing with Eastern (Oriental) concepts you have to use the both/and form of logic.  This argument is flawed in two main areas

      In the first place, you cannot assign the laws of the universe by different cultures.  Mortimer J. Adler says that, “The fundamentals of logic should be as transcultural as the mathematics with which the principles of logic are associated.  The principles of logic are neither Western nor Eastern, but universal.”[ii]  In essence, Adler is pointing out that the laws of mathematics do not change in varying cultures.  “Two plus two equals four” is the same in America, Russia, Korea, Australia, and everywhere else for that matter.  The same thing applies to the law of non-contradiction.

      Secondly, you cannot argue against the law of non-contradiction without using it, and this, in turn, is self-defeating.  Perhaps a story would illustrate this point.  Ravi Zacharias tells of an instance when was debating a professor who embraced the Dialectical logic of the Hindu religion.

     As the professor waxed eloquent and expounded on the law of non-contradiction, he eventually drew his conclusion:  “This [either/or logic] is a Western way of looking at reality.  The real problem is that you are seeing contradictions as a Westerner when you should be approaching it as an Easterner.  The both/and is the Eastern way of viewing reality.”

     After he belabored these two ideas on either/or and both/and for some time, I finally asked if I could interrupt his unpunctuated train of thought and raise one question.

     I said, “Sir, are you telling me that when I am studying Hinduism I either use the both/and system of logic or nothing else?”

     There was pin-drop silence for what seemed an eternity.  I repeated my question:  “Are you telling me that when I am studying Hinduism I either use the both/and logic or nothing else?  Have I got that right?”

     He threw his head back and said, “The either/or does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?”

     “Indeed, it does emerge,” I said.  “And as a matter of fact, even in India we look both ways before we cross the street – it is either the bus or me, not both of us.”[iii]

       From this humorous story we see the undeniability of the law of non-contradiction.  Any attempt to deny it is self-defeating.  The more you try to disprove it, the more you prove its necessity in rational argument.

      The consequences of denying the law of non-contradiction are dreadful (see fig. 4[iv]).  There would be no basis for reality if it did not exist, and our universe would be uninhabitable.        

(Fig. 4)

Eight Results of Denying the Law f Non-Contradiction

 By James Sullivan (see endnote) 

•1. To deny the necessity and validity of the Principle of Contradiction would be to deprive words of their fixed meaning and render speech useless.

•2. Reality of essences must be abandoned; there would be becoming without anything that becomes; flying without a bird; accidents without subjects in which to inhere.

•3. There would be no distinction between things.  All would be one.  Ship, wall, man would all be the same thing.

•4. It would mean the destruction of truth, for truth and falsity would be the same thing.

•5. It would destroy all thought, even opinion, for its affirmation would be its negation.

•6. Desire and preference would be useless, for there would be no difference between good and evil; there would be no reason to go home, for to go home would not be different from staying where one is.

•7.  Everything would be equally true and false at the same time, so that no opinion would be more wrong than any other even in degree.

•8. It would make impossible all becoming; change, or motion.  For all this implies a transition from one state of being to another; but if the Principle of Contradiction is false, all states of being are the same.

 Characteristics of Truth
      We will conclude this post with a few of the main characteristics of truth.  These characteristics are essential properties of what truth is and how it works.

 Truth is Exclusive
      All truth claims are absolutely exclusive.  When a statement is true, then by definition, it excludes everything else that opposes it.  For example, if the statement, “Socrates is a man” is true, then that statement excludes all other conceptions of what Socrates is.  Even the statement, “No truth is exclusive” is an exclusive statement, because it excludes any conception of truth except the one stated.

 Truth is Immutable
      Truth does not change; it remains the same no matter what.  There are a few objections to this, but the one most commonly stated is that truth changes with time.  For example, the statement, “Abraham Lincoln is president” was true in 1863 but is not true in 2003; this is seen as a valid contradiction of two equally true claims.  This objection is easily refuted because it is based on confusion of the law of non-contradiction

      The law of non-contradiction teaches that two opposing statements cannot both be true in the same time and the same sense.  Time is an essential context to a truth claim.  To quote Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks, “The spatial and temporal context of statements is an inherent part of the context which determines the meaning of that assertion.”[v]  The truth claim is understood in context of the time it was made.  So the statement “Lincoln is president” (as said in 1863) is an absolute, unchangeable truth.

Truth is Objective
      Truth is objective not subjective. That is, truth exists outside of us.  Our opinions concerning a statement or idea do not make them true or false.  The opposite of this belief is known as relativism.  Any conception of truth outside of its being objective will ultimately lead to a logical contradiction, and is therefore impossible.

      In this post we have looked at the definition of truth, the logic on which it is based, and some of its essential properties.  It is imperative that we understand the meaning and nature of truth if we hope to defend the absolute claims of Christ and the Christian faith.  Who knows, but that some of those who are reading this will not be faced with a Pilate of their own someday, who will ask them with earnest and hopeful desire, “What is truth?” 

[1] The first principles of knowledge are the self-evident starting points on which all knowledge is based (i.e. the law of non-contradiction).  These principles do not contain any content of knowledge, but are necessary for knowledge to exist.  To those who would try to explain away these first principles, C. S. Lewis objects, “It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles.  If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.  But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” (The Abolition of Man, (Harper Collins, 2001), p. 81)

[2] It is interesting that the Greek term used to describe Jesus in John 1 is the word logos, from which we derive our word Logic.


[i] Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.3 1005b, (Prometheus Books, 1991), translation by John H. McMahon

[ii] Adler, Mortimer, J., Truth in Religion, (Macmillan, 1990), p. 36

[iii] Zacharias, Ravi, Can Man Live Without Go?, (Word Publishing, 1994), p. 129

[iv] Sullivan, James, B., “An Examination of First Principles in Thought and Being in the Light of Aristotle and Aquinas”, Ph. D. Dissertation, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., (Catholic University of America Press, 1939), pp. 121-122

[v] Geisler, Norman, R.; Brooks, Ronald, M., When Skeptics Ask, (Victor, 1990), p.256

Just a quick note.  Johnny-Dee over at FQI recently posted a very interesting piece (and subsequent discussion) on the problem of whether or not the diversity of religious beliefs provides an epistemic defeater for believing in any one religion.  Certainly worth a click.

(Click to read Part 2)

Figures 1 & 2One of the greatest ironies of history consisted in a question that Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, asked of Jesus of Nazareth.  Exasperated by Jesus’ enigmatic responses, Pilate finally expressed the question “What is truth?”

The irony consists in the fact that Pilate was looking into the eyes of Truth personified at that very moment.  Christ, Himself, had told His disciples the previous night, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6).     

   But was Pilate’s question so unreasonable?  In it do we not find a legitimate search for a meaningful answer?  After all, in a culture where there were as many gods as there were men to worship them, would it not be difficult for the average Roman to define in concrete terms what truth actually was and who it was that possessed it?  I believe that the spirit of Pilate’s question lingers, especially in our day when the very nature of truth itself has been brought into question.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed…
      Psalm 11:3 asks this question, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  The modern Christian apologist faces a unique problem.  In past times, the object of apologetic argumentation was to bring to light the truth and to dismiss the false, but in modern times the very notion of truth itself has been discredited, so that now the apologist must not only present the truth, but define what truth is.  If the foundational understanding of truth is undermined, what can the righteous do?

      We have all heard statements like this before.

            “That may be true for you, but it is not true for me.”

            “There is no such thing as absolute truth.”

            “All truth is relative.”

            “You cannot know the truth.”

            “Truth depends on how you were raised.”

These statements may seem ridiculous or nonsensical, but they represent an increasingly prevalent trend of philosophy in the modern world (See figures 1 and 2). A trend, which if left unchecked, will render meaningful conversations about God and salvation nearly impossible.

      So is truth an absolute and immutable fact, or is it relative to your perspective and culture?  That is the question that the Christian apologist must be able to answer in order to lay a stable foundation for further proofs of his faith.

Truth Defined
            Truth is that which corresponds with reality.  Or to put it in the words of C. S. Lewis, “Truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is.”[i]  This is known as the Correspondence Theory of truth, and is the only logically correct answer to the question of what truth is.  All attempts to define truth in any other way are ultimately logically self-defeating.

Aristotle’s Definition of Truth
      The Correspondence Theory of truth was first postulated by Plato’s famous student, Aristotle.  In his Metaphysics, Aristotle states: 

Now, in the first place, this is evident to those who define what truth and falsehood are.  For indeed, the assertion that entity does not exist, and that nonentity does, is a falsehood, but that entity exists, and that nonentity does not exist, is truth. [ii]

To put Aristotle’s definition simply: truth is telling it like it is. 

      This may seem obvious or commonsensical, but Aristotle, by amplifying the teaching of Plato, was one of the first individuals to point out that truth is objective and not subjective.  That is, truth exists outside of ourselves and does not conform itself to our opinions of it.  For example, no matter how much I opine that the law of gravity does not exist, if I jump off of a tall building I will still fall.  Once again, Aristotle states…

Statements and beliefs…themselves remain completely unchangeable in every way; it is because the actual thing changes that the contrary comes to belong to them.[iii]

      Aristotle was basically saying that reality causes a statement to be true or false.  Truth does not change reality, it agrees with it.

G. E. Moore’s Definition of Truth
      G. E. Moore (1873-1958) was a philosopher and close personal friend of the famous agnostic, Bertrand Russell.  He and Russell, despite their errors, are renowned for shedding light upon the Correspondence theory.  Moore gives a definition of truth that closely resembles Aristotle’s, and helps to clarify the Correspondence Theory.

      In Some Main Problems of Philosophy, Moore states, “To say that this belief is true is to say that there is in the Universe a fact to which it corresponds; and that to say that it is false is to say that there is not in the Universe any fact to which it corresponds.”[iv]  In essence, Moore was saying that true beliefs correspond to facts (i.e. true ideas correspond to reality).  He goes on to say, “When the belief is true, it certainly does correspond to a fact; and when it corresponds to a fact it certainly is true…and when it does not correspond to any fact, then certainly it is false.”[v] 

      In Moore’s postulation of the Correspondence Theory we understand a belief does not create fact to make itself true, but rather, a belief is true because it agrees with a fact that exists within reality.

The Liar Paradox
      The Correspondence Theory has been the reigning theory of truth in Western thought for over two thousand years.  It has not been without enemies however; for it was not long after that Aristotle had asserted his theory that it was met with criticism.  Eubulides (a philosopher of the fourth century B.C.) postulated what is known as the “liar’s paradox” in an attempt to confound the correspondence theory.  Eubulides asked his audience to consider the statement, “I am lying”.

      The paradox is self-evident.  If you say that the statement is true; it is really false, but if you say that the statement is false; it is actually true.  So it seems that we find here at least and apparent problem with the correspondence theory of truth.

      The answer to this objection is that it is logically self-defeating.  Saul Kripke points out that such a statement is not grounded in a external matter of fact.  While Bertrand Russel observes that this statment creates what is known as a metalanguage in which talk about the primary language is impossible.  To quote Russell, “The man who says, ‘I am telling a lie of order n‘, is telling a lie, but a lie of order n + 1.”[vi]

[i] Lewis, C.S., God in the Dock, (Eerdmans, [2002 reprint of 1970 copyright]), taken from “Myth Became Fact”, p. 66

[ii] Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.7 1011b25-30, (Prometheus Books, 1991), translation by John H. McMahon

[iii] Aristotle, Categories 5.4a, From The Complete Works of Aristotle (Princeton University, 1984)

[iv] Moore, G. E., Some Main Problems of Philosophy, (Macmillan, 1953), p. 277

[v] Ibid. p. 279

[vi] Gardner, M., The Sixth Book of Mathematical Games from Scientific American, (University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 222

Are they listening?Do you ever wonder if kids “get it“?

Recently I have been examining my life and what kind of parent I have been so far. The results have been less than inspiring. My GPA in Parenting would be only slightly higher than the average GPA of those boy’s from Delta house… before the Toga Party.

Sometimes you wonder, “Am I doing the right thing?” “Do they understand?” “Am I getting through?” Especially now that they are teen-agers, I wonder, “Am I doing everything the best I can?” “Will they be scarred for life?!” or “Will they be okay in spite of my failings and poor parenting?” The angst of parenting…

Then from out nowhere comes a Bolt of lightning  that illuminates your self-imposed Apocalyptic scenario and fills your heart with hope. Hope that they “get it” and you are not a complete dismal failure as a parent (just a partial dismal failure). I had one of those moments today as I listened in on the raving and ranting of my teenage daughter. A bad day at school was compounded by her having a sore throat and not feeling too well. She was in rare form and far from being dismayed about her tirade I was completely ecstatic!

Why, you may ask, was I overjoyed to hear my teen-age daughter on the warpath? It was the subject matter that had me completely enthralled. I would like to quote her and let you hear what had me cheering her on. She was on a roll about what had taken place in one of her classes today (and probably more than just one of them). I have to preface these remarks by stating my children attend a Private Christian School. Here’s what she was going on about…

I’m sick of people not listening in class. All they do is go to school to socialize. Yeah, you have friends there, but class time is not socialize time unless you’re NOT doing anything as a class! They don’t care about their grades, which will be sad when they try and get into college because they won’t be able to. Then, they will blame it on other people, when really the only ones to blame will be them selves. They can’t even shut-up long enough to hear anything that is going on in class. I just want to tell them, ‘Why waste your parents money if you’re not going to do anything? Also, the teachers need more respect than that because the are spending their time to help us… when they could be doing another job for less hassle. If you want to socialize then go to a public school where at least you are not wasting your parents hard earned money.’”

Wow! You go girl! This is from my little girl? My little ‘freshman’?

Cha-ching! She gets it, she really gets it! Boo-yaa! Game, Set, Match!

This is not coming from a wall flower either, this little firebrand is outgoing and very social. Yet, she knows her goals and she realizes that the game began on the first day of class, this her freshman year. The clock is ticking and we are keeping score. From this point forward she is racing toward college and she can see that what she is doing now, does count. That is why she got so upset with her classmates today, their selfishness is not just hurting them but it hurts her and all the rest who are counting on good grades to help them get to college.

That’s the kind of argument that makes a parent proud!