Apologetics : Positive and Negative Truth Tests

The officers-in-training at my church are currently studying Apologetics, along with a brief history of Philosophy. One of the points that has been hammered over and over again by our pastor is the need for both positive and negative tests when dealing with truth claims. The negative test involves logic. The positive test involves Scripture. Let me explain…

One of the means by which we can determine whether a set of beliefs is true or not is by examining the logical consistency. For example, if a person were to say that “God is both one person and three persons at the same time and in the same sense,” then we can know immediately that such a statement is false because it violates the law of non-contradiction. It is impossible for something to be and to not be in the same sense and at the same time. God cannot be both one person and not one person (three persons) at the same time, if what we mean by the word person in one person is the same thing we mean by person in not one person. Such a belief fails the test of logical consistency and therefore can be discarded as false. This we call the negative test.

Is it possible, however, for a set of beliefs to be logically consistent, yet still be false? Yes! Take this statement, for example: “God is one essence and four persons.” There is nothing inherently illogical in the statement. Since what is said to be one (essence) is different than what is said to be three (person), the law of non-contradiction is not violated. Yet, as Christians, we know that this statement is still false. Why? Because Scripture speaks of God as being one in essence and three in persons, not four. Since Scripture sets forth positive truth (“Your Word is Truth”, John 17.17), any truth claims that either contradict the Scripture or cannot be inferred from those Scriptures cannot be said to be true. Hence, we call this the positive test.

Another example of a set of beliefs being logically consistent yet yielding falsehood is the following syllogism:

(A) All men are perfect.
(B) Jason is a man.
(C) Therefore, Jason is perfect.

Logically, the syllogism is valid. If it is true that “all men are perfect” and if it is true that “Jason is a man,” then it necessarily follows that “Jason is perfect.” The logic is flawless. Yet, we all know there is something wrong because Jason certainly is not perfect. So what’s the problem? It isn’t the logic; it’s the false premise that “all men are perfect.” And while there may be delusional people out there that would like to think that they are perfect (yes, i have met these people), God says otherwise: “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,” (Romans 3.9)

The laws of logic cannot supply truth. Nothing positively can be extracted about man, God, law, creation, history, or any other topic, from the laws of logic. The law of non-contradiction, for example, states that it is impossible for something to be and not be at the same time and in the same sense, but it doesn’t tell me whether we all descended from the same parents or evolved from monkeys.

It is not enough for a set of beliefs to pass logical validity! That is only the first step. Those beliefs must also pass Biblical muster. Logic is not a source of truth. It is a tool to structure truth. Put another way: everything said in Scripture is true because it is the Word of God and thus logically consistent, but not everything that is logically consistent is true.

This is why we have two tests. A set of beliefs may be found to be logically consistent and thus pass the negative test. But that does not necessitate that they are true beliefs. The set of beliefs must also pass the positive test, that of being consistent with the meaning of Scripture. And of course, if those beliefs do not pass the negative test, then one does not even need to bother with whether or not it passes the positive test. Logical inconsistency is certainly a very quick method to recognize falsehood. But with logically consistent beliefs, logic cannot help us.

I say all that to say this: one of the sad realities I have witnessed lately is a surge of self-proclaimed “Apologists” who are not really doing Apologetics, but are merely hitting the streets and running the masses through a negative test. Confronting a confused, relativistic college kid and getting him to contradict himself is not enough (nor is it that hard)…it is NOT Apologetics. In fact, one does not even need a knowledge of the Scriptures to pull off such a task. Anyone who knows a smattering of logic can trip people up. The vast majority of atheists/skeptics I have encountered over the years don’t even know the formal definition of the law of non-contradiction. Heck, a pagan who actually knows the definition of a ‘contradiction’ can trip up other pagans. You are not doing anything special there.

To do Apologetics rightly, one must not only know how to run people through the negative test, but also must be able to present and defend the Biblical worldview in all the various fields of study. And you cannot present and defend what you don’t know; which is why viewing a DVD like “How to Answer the Fool” isn’t going to make you an Apologist. Becoming a real Apologist (which i do not claim to be) takes a great deal of time and study. It requires you to know that system of truth revealed in the Scripture from front to back and everything in between, and to also know how it relates to all the various fields. Getting people to contradict themselves accomplishes nothing if you cannot in turn replace their self-destructive system with TRUTH. A person is not “defending the faith” by merely getting a pagan to fail at the negative test because there is nothing in the negative test alone that necessitates “the faith.”