The New Tower of Babel

Ours is a religion that values accurate and logical thought because it recognizes God as the source.

Tower of Babel (Babylon), a famous painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder created in 1563.
Tower of Babel (Babylon), a famous painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder created in 1563. (photo: Jorisvo / Shutterstock)

In the third book of C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, the evil organization “N.I.C.E.” Is finally defeated when the spell of Babel is cast upon them and they can no longer communicate with each other. The spell of Babel causes the people to speak gibberish. Each speaker presumably knows what it is that he is trying to say, but their speech is incomprehensible to each other. No organization can function without communication.

The basis of all communication involves two things: language and logic. Remove either one, and communication, civilization and all fields of study fall apart. The tale of the Tower of Babel from the book of Genesis illustrates this point. Construction on the tower has to stop when people can no longer understand each other.

But perhaps the inability to communicate was not an unnatural punishment; it was the natural consequence of claiming an unnatural independence. The tower was a project of pride, the seed of all sin, and pride naturally separates people from each other. 

In the context of a conversation with a friend about LGBTQ and morality, he lamented to me that there are very few people he can talk to about these issues without the discussion becoming heated and unproductive. When we become enmeshed in ourselves and our own ideas and agendas, rational discourse becomes impossible. Words become buzzwords, and emotions become arguments.

These are the foundations of all rational discourse: words, statements and arguments. The better and more careful we become about these things, the more clearly we can think and discuss. The less attention we pay to these things, the less effectively we can think.

However, it is also a mistake to emphasize one over the other. For example, our age values the mechanics of argumentation, known as logic, over the understanding of things and the ability to make true statements about them. We are high on calculation and low on understanding. 

I just finished reading a fascinating little book entitled Visual Logic, by Father John P. Rickert. It is a very brief introduction to logic, but it also addresses some of the modern discoveries in the still living field of logic.

He points out that creating tables of the outcomes of arguments can, potentially, turn “into sheer calculation with little intuitive clarity.” There can be arguments that are valid but don’t make any sense to a human mind which seeks understanding. 

Perhaps the most important discovery in the science of logic in the last century is the proof that logic cannot prove everything. Father Rickert writes, “Logic itself proves that logic has limits.” Logicians have created proofs to show that there are some things mere logic cannot prove or discover.

The human mind, however, can do and has done what logic by itself cannot. This proves that the human mind is more than a mere computer. What we have that computers lack is understanding.

The fact is that we need all three: words, statements and arguments; understanding, judgment and reason. If any human endeavor is to succeed, and if humans are to have any community and communication, our minds must function as they were meant to, and our words must carry meanings we all understand. 

The place to begin is our own understanding of the way reason works. Basic logic is just common sense, and anyone can recognize the rules of logic upon reflection. What is more difficult is to recognize when someone is using a bad argument that sounds good. Just because someone sounds smart doesn’t mean that he is.

Father Rickert writes, “It is good to know whether a statement truly follows from other statements or not. This can help us to hold to a conclusion that truly does follow; to be more cautious towards a claim that is not so certain, and to avoid invalid inferences.” 

It takes critical thinking to avoid being brainwashed, and this gift of critical thinking is itself a thing that can lead to the conclusion that God exists. Logical thought is essential for communication and civilization. When we dive into the mess of social media, the land of Babel, and any other realm of discourse, we should pay particular attention to what is being said instead of merely reacting. What do these statements mean? Do these statements really follow from these others?

After all, Jesus himself is the Word, and his ultimate revelation is the Word of the Cross. He is the reason of God. Ours is a religion that values accurate and logical thought because it recognizes God as the source. He wants to unite us, and our reason, well used, is to be a means of unity.