Describe a One Ended Stick

“Some time ago, when I was in California delivering a series of addresses on the Christian faith, a professor of philosophy who had been in the audience confronted me with a rather stern challenge. The situation was somewhat ironic and would have been humorous had it not involved some obvious irritation on the part of my antagonist. Flinging down the gauntlet, he dared me to speak the next night on the subject of ‘Why I Am Not a Hindu.’ I must confess I was rather taken aback, as this was an American gentleman who had adopted the Eastern mystical world-view for himself and was most agitated that I, an Indian, had committed my life to Christ. I interacted with him for a few moments in order to get a feel for the level-headedness of our discussion and then said I would rather not deal with a frontal attack on any issue so culturally sensitive in such a Denying the law of non-contradiction is like trying to blow and suck at the same time. Wilson setting. “Besides,” said I, “I have heard it said that when you throw mud at others, not only do you lose a lot of ground, you also get your hands dirty.” He was neither persuaded or amused. He was insistent and continued to challenge me. “Go ahead, speak on that subject, and I will bring my philosophy class with me. They will take you apart after you are through.” Without a question, by his polemic stance he was waging a psychological war. By this point quite a crowd had gathered to listen with gladiatorial glee to this verbal slugfest. Unable to shake of this determined man, I finally made a counteroffer. I had been planning to speak one night on “Why I Am a Christian”; I suggested that perhaps that would provide sufficient material upon which his philosophical heavyweights could pounce. “I would be delighted,” I said, “to respond to any challenge after that. After all, implicit in that presentation would be why I am not anything else.” And so he agreed. As the lecture unfolded I could sense his discomfort, for I was touching upon the nerve of his world-view – the basic laws of logic and how they apply to reality. I began by establishing the law of noncontradiction, which contends that if a statement is absolutely contradictory, without qualification, that statement cannot be true. I continued by demonstrating that in the myriad postulations of Hinduism there are numerous contradictions, a fact admitted to by even some of its leading proponents. If the law of noncontradiction applies to reality and Hinduism is plagued by contradiction, then I concluded that, as a system, Hinduism is false. To this very day, Hinduism lives with a titanic struggle between its two poles of theism (a belief in a personal deity) and monism (a belief in an impersonal, absolute reality). In fact, more and more, Hindus are prone to offer Hinduism not as a religion but as a culture because of its admixture of so many contrary strands. Parenthetically, for those who are not familiar with this kind of thinking, and for whom philosophy is not part of the daily diet, the law of noncontradiction works something like this: Suppose my wife and I were walking together and you came by and said, “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Zacharias. I hear you are expecting a baby.” If, to your question, my wife answered “Yes” at the same time I said “No,” what would you think? You might conclude that an attempt at humor was being made, or that perhaps the woman accompanying me is not Mrs. Zacharias, or possibly that she has not yet broken the news to me. This is because the same question, at the same time, meaning the same thing cannot elicit two absolutely opposite answers. It is the law of noncontradiction. This was the key issue that this professor was going to address in our discussion. At the end of the lecture, he stormed to the front with his note-takers and exploded, “You have done the greatest damage to Eastern philosophy I have ever seen anyone do, and the reason is that you don’t understand the Eastern mind.” Even his own students could not help but see the irony of a Westerner telling an Easterner that he did not understand the Eastern mind. This was indeed comical. I decided the time had come to rescue this discussion from ridicule, so I asked him to meet me for lunch the next day where we could try and work through our disagreement. He accepted, and when we met, he wasted no time. He began with, “Your biggest problem is that you do not understand Eastern logic.” I concluded it would be best to let him explain Eastern logic to me. His argument expounded on two kinds of logic, one the either/or logic and the other, the both/and logic. “The either /or logic,” he said, “is built on the law of noncontradiction, meaning that if a statement is true, its opposite has to be false.” So far I agreed with him. As the professor waxed eloquent ad expounded on the law of noncontradiction, he eventually drew his conclusion: “This is a Western way of looking at reality.” I disagreed with that conclusion and asked him to cross it off his placemat where he had delineated his syllogisms. He refused, and I allowed him to proceed, knowing that sooner or later he would have to reject his conclusion. His next major explanation was on the dialectical method. This is not either/or, this is both/and. G.W.F. Hegel used this in his dialectic between an idea (a thesis) and its opposite (an antithesis) to form the synthesis (finding a middle ground). Karl Marx used it to demonstrate history’s inexorable more from the employer on one side and the employee on the other to a merger into a classless society. (Strangely, no one ever shows you a classless society.) My philosopher friend went to great lengths to establish the both/and logic as a superior way by which to establish truth. “So, Dr. Zacharias,” he said, “when you see one Hindu affirming that God is personal and another insisting that God is not personal, just because it is contradictory you should not see it as a problem. The real problem is that you are seeing that contradiction as a Westerner when you should be approaching it as an Easterner. The both/and is the Eastern way of viewing reality.” Again I asked him to strike out the last line of his conclusion on the both/and system, but of course he would not. After he had belabored these two ideas of either/or and both/and for sometime and carried on his tirade that we ought not to study truth from a Western point of view but rather from an Eastern viewpoint, I finally asked if I could interrupt his unpunctuated train of thought and raise one question. He agreed and put down his pencil. I said, “Sir, are you telling me that when I am studying Hinduism I either use 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 both/and system of 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 when we cross the street – it is either the bus or me, not both of us.” Do you see the mistake he was making? He was using the either/or logic in order to prove the both/and. The more you try to hammer the law of noncontradiction, the more it hammers you. (Another way to consider this discussion is to say that if the both/and logic is all you make it to be, why can’t I use both the both/and and the either or? Why just one of them?) Now let me make two vitally, vitally important points here. This philosopher was partly right. In the East there is a popular tendency to appear accepting of all religions as just different facets of the same truth. Dr. Radhakrishnan (the noted Indian philosopher who taught at Oxford succeeding the renowned Dr. Zaehner and then went on to become India’s president) made a staggering comment in his book The Hindu View of Life. He said that one can be a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and even an atheist – and still be a Hindu. Radhakrishnan was clearly equivocating. He himself confessed elsewhere that Hinduism had opened its arms so wide to include so much that when the arms finally closed, Hinduism would be strangled by the embrace. However, popular Hinduism is not classical Hinduism, and the whole method of teaching of the greatest Hindu philosopher Shankara was quite Socratic as he debated ideas not in a dialectical mode (both/and) but in a noncontradictory mode (either/or). He would challenge his antagonists to prove him wrong, and if not, to surrender to his view. The point, then, is not whether we use and Eastern logic or a Western logic. We use the logic that best reflects reality, and the law of noncontradiction is implicitly or explicitly implied by both the East and the West. There is a second point that needs to be made about the law of noncontradiction. It is ultimately not a test for truth but for falsehood. A statement may be noncontradictory but nevertheless false. For example, there is nothing contradictory within the statement itself about my saying that there is a red car in the driveway, but I may still be telling you something is false. On the other hand, if the statement is unqualifiedly contradictory – to wit, talking about square circles – it cannot be true. This is why I find atheism clearly false. Its theory and its injunctions are fraught with contradictions. Now, if the law of noncontradiction applies to reality, and if the same question at the same time cannot elicit two opposite answers, both claiming to be true, you must submit to one conclusion: Jesus made a most reasonable statement when He claimed exclusivity. You may say He was wrong, but you must acknowledge that He was making a meaningful statement because truth by definition is exclusive. The inescapability of this fact is proven if you choose to challenge what I am saying. The moment you try to refute what I’m saying, you are employing the law of noncontradiction, implying that you are right and I am wrong. That is why Aristotle said, “I can prove the law to you. All you have to do is open your mouth and say something.” Even the Eastern mystic knew he could not escape the overarching law of noncontradiction. He therefore opted for silence by saying, “He who knows, does not speak; he who speaks, does not know.” But he spoke to tall us that! Another sage said, “When the mouth opens, all are fools.” Alas, his mouth opened to formulate that test. You may as well try to describe a one-ended stick as to deny the law of noncontradiction. In effect, you are forced to say nothing, and Aristotle defined nothing as “that which rocks dream about.” We are left with either dreams of rocks or the acceptance of the law of noncontradiction.”

Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God?


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