Monday, December 28, 2015

Logos Theology and Atheism

Dating way back to Heraclitus, but certainly more refined by the ancient Stoics, was the concept of the Logos.  The Logos had a broad list of meanings, including: word, speech, principle, and about a dozen others.  Heraclitus used the ambiguity of the meaning of Logos purposefully, though not in a deceitful manner.  Rather, his understanding of the Logos was that the little understanding we could have of it could be spread across a plethora of concepts.

Christians as early as the first century A.D. attempted to incorporate Greek philosophical ideas with their own theology in order to "speak the same language," as it were, as those Christian evangelists would spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Greek philosophers.  Paul does this in Acts 17:28 and, more to the point, John explicitly uses the Stoic understanding of Logos in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God."  The text almost invariably translates Logos as "Word" into English.  Nevertheless, this translation does not exclude the understanding of the Stoics, whose understanding of the Logos constituted a central tenet of Stoicism, which was arguably the philosophy of John's day.

For the Stoics, as well as for the Christians who attempted to converse with them, the Logos is simply that which orders the cosmos.  The Stoics, like the early Christians, understood the Logos to be found.  The difference was that the Stoics believed the Logos existed imminently and as part of the cosmos, whereas the Christians had a more nuanced understanding.  Nevertheless, there is clearly a place for common ground to be shared, as the above definition of Logos should illustrate.  What, then, is the argument for the Logos, and are there any reasons to think the Logos is God?  First, here is an argument for the existence of the Logos:

1. Everything that exists most likely has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of their own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, modest version of the PSR)

2. If an ordered cosmos exists and has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is the Logos. (Premise)

3. An ordered cosmos exists. (Premise)

4. Hence, the ordered cosmos most likely has an explanation. (From 1 and 3)

5. Therefore, that explanation is the Logos. (From 2 and 4)

The reader will notice a few things about the above argument.  First, I have slightly weakened the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) from a universal to high probability.  Secondly, this argument resembles the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA).  Finally, but perhaps easily overlooked, is that the Logos could be found within the necessity of the universe's own nature (Stoicism), or in an external cause (Christianity).  The argument above leaves that matter entirely open.  So what does atheism have to do with any of this?

An atheist can and should, in my opinion, entirely embrace the concept of the Logos as essential to any knowledge we could possibly have.  Apart from order, there is only chaos, and there is no knowledge in the absence of order.  The atheist, if he decides to do so, will almost undoubtedly choose to say that the order of the cosmos is found in the necessity of the cosmos' own nature.  What is the cosmos, after all, other than bound by logical and mathematical principles, even in the most alleged chaotic states?  It appears inescapable that the atheist should take the side of the Stoics.

Now, what else can we know about the Logos other than it is that which orders the cosmos?  The atheist should concede at least three things: the Logos is eternal (existing at all times), omnipresent (existing at all places), and indestructible.  This is because there is no time or place, even in the future, at which the laws of logic and mathematics will fail to be instantiated.  The atheist might be a bit cautious at this point, since if this is not God, then it is at least something God-like.  However, since I am interested in finding as much common ground between theists and atheists, I don't think this argument should scare anyone away.  All of us seek knowledge, and all of us do so while presupposes that there is knowledge to be found.  Apart from the Logos, there is no order and, as mentioned before, apart from order there is no knowledge.


  1. Doug

    It is not something God-like. It may be eternal, omnipresent and indestructible, but nothing in your argument even suggests it is something personal.
    Sure, reality is necessary ordered, and that's it. That's what the Logos is. And if there is any personal being to be found in reality, it is 'governed' by Logos. And that goes for every possible personal being, whether God or man or whatever.

  2. Walter, I appreciate where you're coming from. If you'd like me to qualify my statement about these attributes being God-like, I'm happy to do so. Many atheists may be cautious to accept the existence of the Logos because their impression of it is that the Logos has God-like attributes.

    I'd like to make two additional points. First, I think you're using a much too narrow definition of "God." For the Stoics, the Logos is God, and there are many conceptions of God that do not entail classical theism or that God is personal. I'm not requiring anyone to call the Logos God. After all, I mentioned in my post that I'm trying to find some common ground between theists and atheists. Secondly, you haven't provided any reason to think that God would have to be governed by the Logos. What if the Logos is a personal agent?

    This second point, however, is tangential to the main issue at hand. All I'm claiming in this post is that atheists should concede that a Logos exists, which is eternal, omnipresent, and indestructible, and that's it. It seems that you are at least open to this idea, which is terrific. We would then be able to advance the debate forward.

  3. Doug

    On of the reasons why atheists are cautious to accept the logos is indeed because it is their impression that the Logos has God-like attributes and one of the reasons for this is that theists claim the Logos is God.
    If you stretch the meaning of the word god to include impersonal aspects of reality, you are doing the same thing and that is what might scare some atheists away. They don't want to have their worldview thrown one one heap with classical theism or other worldviews. The logos does not have god-like attributes. At best we could say that the Logos has some attributes that God also has. It is not because I have ten toes and so does Santa Claus that I have Santa-like attributes.

    The reason why God would have to be governed by the Logos and why the Logos cannot be a personal agent is very simple. A personal agent is an ordered system and, according to your argument, requires the Logos as an explanation. So, you get an infinite regress. To me, the Logos is a necessary abstract entity that is explained by the necessity of its own nature. It is simply impossible to think of a reality that is not in some way ordered. Order is the default position, not chaos. Total chaos is impossible.
    God, if he exists, is restricted by logic (or the Logos) but logic is not restricted by God. God cannot make 1 + 1 equal 3 and God cannot make himself not-God. So, it is obvious that whatever personal agent is governed by the logos and not the other way round.

    I really don't see how this kind of common ground can advance this debate. What is needed for true common ground is respect for each others position and not trying to squeeze the other person into your worldview. Of course theists and atheists have something in common, but I don't expect you to become an atheist, so please don't expect me to become a theist either. I am not a theist in any sort of way.

  4. Walter, I've said multiple times now that atheists don't have to call the Logos God. It's inaccurate to paint my view as trying to squeeze an atheist into my worldview. The caution atheists have about conceding that the Logos exists, therefore, cannot be explained by my insistence that the Logos is God. I mentioned the Stoics and how early Christians used Logos theology to speak the same language as the ancient Greek philosophers, but that's it. Do classical theists claim the Logos is God? Yes, but that's inconsequential. Atheists should simply deny that the Logos is God, which is exactly where the debate can then be advanced.

    If you understand the Logos as an abstract object, then the Logos could have no effect on the cosmos, since abstract objects don't stand in causal relations. As a result, the Logos should be understood as something concrete if it is that which orders the cosmos. Can God make 1 + 1 = 3? No, but again, the Logos cannot do that either. Calling your conclusion that God is restricted by logic or the Logos in a way that the Logos is distinct from God "obvious" is far from being so. We have already had this discussion many times concerning the conceptualist argument, and this whole Euthyphro Dilemma objection is dead.

  5. Doug

    You know I don't think abstract objcets really exist. They are abstractions of the way reality is. And reality cannot be chaotic, not because some personal entity doesn't like chaos but because there is no such thing as chaos. What would chaos look like?
    This has nothing to do with the Euthrypho Dillemma and your Logos gets you into an infinite regress unless you just assert that it is fundamenttal while I have a strong argument against it being fundamental. Necsessity is not just a thing you can claim, it's something that has to be argued for.
    We have already had this discussion many times before and you have, on many occasions, declared the discussion dead, but looking at relevant literature, it is far from dead.

    As for why atheists may be cautious about the Logos, as long as they understand, as I do, that the logos is something mundane, they don't have to be cautious.
    If you truly want a discussion about the Logos, you should drop the claim that it is something God-like. It is not God-like any more than I am Santa-like.

    That's all I have to say about this.

  6. 1. I never claimed the Logos was abstract. The Logos is merely that which orders the cosmos. On that I think we're agreed. So, hooray for common ground!

    2. The Euthyphro Dilemma, as understood in its historical context (have you read the Euthyphro dialogue?), is indeed dead. Modern versions of it are solved by postulating God as Pure Actuality and as goodness itself, since actuality and goodness are convertible.

    Now, if the Logos is so mundane, why make such a fuss over it? I haven't insisted you call it God or even God-like.

    With respect to Santa, humans have five fingers, and so does (the mythical) Santa. On the other hand, we are temporal, limited to one space, and destructible. Hence, there is no parity between comparing us to the Logos and comparing us to Santa.

  7. There is no 'that which orders the cosmos'. the cosmos is a necessarily ordered system, just like God, if he were to exist is a necessarily ordered system. that's it.

    Yes, I have read the Euthyphro dialogue and nothing I said has anything to do with the historical context of the ED. As a side note: the vast majority of philosphers do not even believe in Pure Act, so assertions as 'goodness and actuality are convertible does not make them convertible.

    I am not making a fuss about anything. I am jsu trying to make sure we understand each other. My willingness to accept something like the logos in no way means I am willing to accept any sort of God.

  8. You're continuing to ignore the fact that my only claim is that atheists should be willing to accept the existence of the Logos, and nothing else. If there is nothing that orders the cosmos, but it is a necessarily ordered system, then that necessarily ordered system is explicable in terms of the Logos.

    Moreover, I have continually insisted that there should be nothing that stands in the way of an atheist accepting the existence of the Logos. I don't know how many times I have to stress that atheists should find common ground with theists on this issue, but I suppose it's worth mentioning again.

    On a tangential issue, God is not a necessarily ordered system. This is because God is Pure Actuality, from which we can derive the doctrine of divine simplicity. Order is reserved for things that are complex, not simple.

  9. Doug

    Atheist 'should' not do anything. The cosmos is a necessarily ordered system is not explicable in terms of the Logos. Necessary things have their explanation in the necessity of their existence, that's as far as explanations go. If you insist that the necessity of their own existence could somehow be called the logos, then that's fine.
    The important thing here is that, on my view, the Logos is not something transcendent.
    I could say that that is an issue on which theists should find common ground with atheists, but it's not up to an atheist to say what a theist should or shouldn't do.