Almost five years ago, when I first saw the movie Expelled, David Berlinski – who was, by far, the star of the movie – introduced me to an interesting distinction that I had never encountered before. He argued that Darwinism was a “necessary though not sufficient cause” for the Holocaust.
I soon began to realize that this necessary/sufficient distinction was helpful when discussing ideas from a logical point of view – whether that be theology, philosophy, politics, history, physics, or many other subjects.
Simply put: have you ever claimed that a certain idea would be the “logical conclusion” of another idea? I do this often myself. At the root of this is the confusion between “necessary” and “sufficient” causes. Far too often, when discussing theology, the Bible, religion, politics, or any number of ideas, the former is often confused with the latter.
I don’t claim to be a logician or educated philosopher, but the distinction between a necessary and sufficient cause is an important one.
Simply put, a “necessary” cause can be put in these terms: if B, then always A. Or, put another way: this effect must necessarily have that cause. An example from the physical world is this: the presence of rain (effect) must always and necessarily mean the presence of clouds (the cause). In order for there to be rain, there must always be clouds.
Conversely, a “sufficient” cause is put in these terms: if A, then always B. In other words, the presence of A always leads to the presence of B. A, itself, is “sufficient” enough to always lead to B.
The challenge comes when people turn a “necessary” cause into a “sufficient” one. This happens when A allegedly always leads to B. It would be like saying, “The presence of clouds always leads to the presence of rain.” We know, of course, that this is not true. The presence of clouds, though necessary, is not sufficient to always lead to rain. There must also be other necessary conditions in order for clouds to produce rain.
But, too often, when it comes to theology, we make assertions that seem to be “sufficient” ones when, in reality, they are merely “necessary” ones.
Here’s a theological example: I could look at my Church and notice that everyone who seems to be legalistic is also vegan. I could then make the logical leap that being legalistic is the “logical conclusion” of being vegan. In other words, being vegan is itself sufficient enough for turning people into legalists.
This is an illogical conclusion, though. While it could be argued that being vegan is a “necessary” cause of being legalistic (though I would question whether it is even a necessary cause, as there are many legalists who are not even vegans), it is, itself, not sufficient enough to be the cause for legalists. This is because there are scores of vegans who aren’t legalistic, so there must be other factors in play that contribute to a vegan being legalistic.
This same distinction is helpful when talking about the Sabbath and salvation by works. While it could definitely be argued – and has – from a logical perspective that those who maintain that one is saved by works are also Sabbath-keepers, it cannot be argued that Sabbath-keeping itself is sufficient enough to cause someone to believe in salvation by works.
Like I said, this necessary/sufficient distinction is vital when we talk about ideas. Far too often we say B is the “logical conclusion” of A, when, in reality, it actually isn’t. As I have said: one man’s “logical conclusion” is another man’s fodder.
The reality is, there are very few things in life that are “sufficient” causes. It is very infrequent that you find something in life that always leads to something else.
All this is important because of what I will share in my next post – to come at a later time. Some have essentially asserted that belief in Universal Justification is a sufficient cause for ultimately rejecting the Investigative Judgment and sanctuary. The latter is the “logical conclusion” of the former; A always leads to B.
Or so the assertion goes.