As the nonscientist on RTB’s five-person staff scholar team, I sometimes feel like the odd man out. Because I’m a philosopher, I often look at things and think about things very differently than my science colleagues. The questions that I tend to ask, even about science, usually inquire about things from a very different perspective. I typically gravitate toward asking more philosophically oriented questions that focus more on logical relationships than science’s emphasis upon observational relationships. Yet I recently came across a provocative analogy that I think helps to show the broadly common way that my science colleagues and I both seek to discover knowledge and truth.

Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft draws this interesting comparison in his book on logic:

“Logic is one of philosophy’s main instruments. Logic is to philosophy what telescopes are to astronomy or microscopes to biology or math to physics. You can’t be very good at physics if you’re very bad at math, and you can’t be very good at philosophy if you’re very bad at logic.”1

Analogical Thinking

I view Kreeft’s comparison of the various instruments of knowledge and truth as functioning as a stimulating analogy.

Here’s that instrument to discipline comparison outlined. Logic’s relationship to philosophy is like:

  • telescopes to astronomy
  • microscopes to biology
  • math to physics

In all of these academic fields it is possible to engage in the discipline itself without specifically using the instrument. For example, ancient people practiced astronomy long before the telescope was invented, and studies in biology went on for many centuries before the microscope was designed. Similarly, it is possible to observe the general effects of physics without the formal use of mathematics, just as a person can ask common sense philosophical questions about life without appealing to the formal aspects of logic. Even the great philosopher Aristotle, who is credited as the “father of logic,” referred to logic as a “tool” or “instrument” (Greek, organon). However, the use of these amazing instruments—whether actual artifacts (telescope and microscope) or pure conceptual realities (math and logic) discovered via the human mind—produces an increase in information and knowledge that is seemingly exponential. Both the amount of data and the depth of potential understanding is exceedingly increased by the use of the instruments. And the more skilled you are at using the instrument, the better you are in your given discipline.

It is very important to also acknowledge that logic’s relationship to philosophy is in another way profoundly unlike the other examples in the comparison. In a critical sense, logicians would insist that to significantly think, speak, and act requires an appeal to, and dependence upon, the laws of logic. Logicians have powerfully shown that the laws of logic are unique in that they are ontologically real, cognitively necessary, and irrefutable.2 Broadly defined logic is a tool of philosophy, but in a stricter sense, logic or the laws of logic make rationality itself possible. Astronomers, biologists, physicists, and philosophers all depend upon the laws of logic to make their lives and studies intelligible. So, like all analogies, this comparison has obvious limitations.

Lenses or Pathways

Another engaging way of thinking about Kreeft’s analogy is to consider replacing the word instrument with the words lenses or pathways. In a sense these apparatuses allow their users to see or envision whole new worlds or to open doors and pathways to new dimensions of understanding. For philosophers, the laws of logic serve to ground intelligible experience, and for physicists the universe seems written in, and explainable by, the language of mathematics. This equipment, or conceptual framework, allows for a transformation of human sight and comprehension. How incredible and valuable is that?

Thus, while there are times I feel my work as a philosopher is out of step with my science colleagues, this analogy helps me to keep in mind that as Christian scholars in very different disciplines, we are all using our prize instruments to hunt and gather the knowledge and truth that God has revealed in his infinite wisdom as Creator and Redeemer.

Reflections: Your Turn

What do you think of Kreeft’s analogy? How do the artifactual instruments differ from the instruments of conceptual reality? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Endnotes

  1. Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic: A Logic Text Using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles, 3rd ed. (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), 5.
  2. Peter A. Angeles,“Laws of Thought, The Three” in The HarperCollins Dictionary Of Philosophy: In-Depth Explanations and Examples Covering Over 3,000 Entries (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 167.

Subjects: Philosophy, Logic

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About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.



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