The Law of Contradiction

by Ken Green

Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, delivered a speech on Nov. 17, 2020, which was digested in “Imprimis,” a publication of the school. It is titled, “Orwell’s 1984 and Today.” He says, “I taught a course this fall semester on totalitarian novels. We read four of them: George Orwell’s 1984, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.

“The totalitarian novel is a relatively new genre. In fact, the word “totalitarian” did not exist before the 20th century. The older word for the worst possible form of government is “tyranny”— a word Aristotle defined as the rule of one person, or of a small group of people, in their own interests and according to their will. Totalitarianism was unknown to Aristotle because it is a form of government that only became possible after the emergence of modern science and technology.”

Arnn goes on the explain why he says this and to illustrate with the imagined setting of Orwell’s novel along with the reality of the preponderance of cameras and other modern technologies in Marxist nations like China as well more democratic countries like our own.

Orwell’s novel introduced the term, “doublethink.” Arnn says, “As the first essential step of his education, Winston (the protagonist of the novel, kg) has to learn doublethink — a way of thinking that defies the law of contradiction. In Aristotle, the law of contradiction is the basis of all reasoning, the means of making sense of the world. It is the law that says that X and Y cannot be true at the same time if they’re mutually exclusive. For instance, if A is taller than B and B is taller than C, C cannot be taller than A. The law of contradiction means things like that.”

The law of contradiction (aka the law of noncontradiction) did not begin with Aristotle. It is basically common sense. We may be sure that Adam at the very beginning knew that it was impossible to exist and not exist at the same time. But as we often hear, common sense isn’t common anymore. And when a culture reaches this point it is in dire straits indeed.

The dictionary defines the law of contradiction as “a principle in logic: a thing cannot at the same time both be and not be of a specified kind (as a table and not a table) or in a specified manner (as red or not red). It is the law that “a proposition cannot be both true and false or that a thing cannot both have and not have a given property.”

Phillip R. Johnson says it is the law that “two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense . . . and nothing that is true can be self-contradictory or inconsistent with any other truth. All logic depends on this simple principle. Rational thought and meaningful discourse demand it. To deny it is to deny all truth in one fell swoop.”

It is common sense folks!

The law of contradiction is clearly reflected in the Scriptures. I John 2:21 is explicit: "No lie is of the truth." II Timothy 2:13 states that "[God] cannot deny himself." Johnson comments, “Lots of well-meaning Christians, however, seem to operate with the misconception that biblical revelation is somehow exempt from the law of contradiction. They suggest that God's truth can contravene logic if God is so pleased … But Titus 1:2 tells us that "God . . . cannot lie." Therefore even God's Word must be in harmony with the law of contradiction. One clear, unresolvable contradiction would be enough to destroy the trustworthiness of the whole. That's why the enemies of truth are so eager to try to prove that God's Word contradicts itself.”

Some have argued that the "paradoxical statements" of Christ are contradictions: such statements as “the first shall be last," and "you must lose your life in order to save it." Such a charge is an egregious misunderstanding of paradox. These are not contradictions, but figurative expressions. They are plays on words. G. K. Chesterton who himself was a master of paradox, said, “Paradox is truth standing on its head to get attention.” The Christian faith has many paradoxes, but no contradictions.

Some have used the Trinity as an example of contradiction. The Trinity is a difficult doctrine. In fact, it is impossible for the finite human mind to fully fathom it. It remains a mystery that has not been fully revealed. But it is not contradictory. The fact is that we do not believe God is three in the same sense that He is one.

Theologian R.C. Sproul has said, “In college classes across the world, young people are taught that there is “no truth.” Ironically, this statement itself makes a claim as to what is true. And if it is true that there is no truth then the statement is false.

Understanding this basic chain of reasoning is the starting point of understanding logic and logic is how the discerning mind comes to know what is true.

Dr. Arnn further stated in his speech, “In our time, the law of contradiction would mean that a governor, say, could not simultaneously hold that the COVID pandemic renders church services too dangerous to allow, and also that massive protest marches are fine. It would preclude a man from declaring himself a woman, or a woman declaring herself a man as if one’s sex is simply a matter of what one wills it to be — and it would preclude others from viewing such claims as anything other than preposterous.

“The law of contradiction also means that we can’t change the past. What we can know of the truth all resides in the past, because the present is fleeting and confusing and tomorrow has yet to come. The past, on the other hand, is complete.

“Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas go so far as to say that changing the past — making what has been not to have been — is denied even to God. Because if something both happened and didn’t happen, no human understanding is possible. And God created us with the capacity for understanding. That’s the law of contradiction, which the art of doublethink denies and violates.

“Doublethink is manifest in the fact that the state ministry in which Winston is tortured is called the Ministry of Love. It is manifest in the three slogans displayed on the state’s Ministry of Truth: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” And as we have seen, the regime in 1984 exists precisely to repeal the past. If the past can be changed, anything can be changed—man can surpass even the power of God. But still, to what end?”

The prophet Isaiah said: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

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