Posted On December 17, 2014

Scott Oliphant – Proofs, Persuasion and the Truth Problem

by | Dec 17, 2014 | Biblical Worldview, Uncategorized

As a reminder of where we’ve been thus far, it might be helpful to list the Ten Tenets again. The Ten Tenets are these:

1. The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.
2. God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what it is, and any Covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on, and utilize, that authority in order to defend Christianity.
3. It is the truth of God’s revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.
4. Man (male and female) as image of God is in covenant with the Triune God, for eternity.
5. All people know the true God, and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations.
6. Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know. Those who are in Christ, see that truth for what it is.
7. There is an absolute, covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing, position. Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.
8. Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute. Thus, every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, etc that it has taken and wrenched from its true, Christian context.
9. The true, covenantal, knowledge of God in man, together with God’s universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.
10. Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal all-controlling plan and purpose of God.

This month, we want to provide an explanation of Tenet 9.

In much of the history of apologetics, the notion of proof has been central. A defense of the faith, so it goes, is given when one gives a proof, or proofs, for the existence of a god. Once the proof is given, the apologetic task is done, and it might be prudent for the apologist to introduce his interlocutor to his pastor so that the central details of who this god is might be discussed.

Surely, the notion of proof in apologetics is important. We are called to provide reasons for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), and providing reasons can include mounting an argument. So, it is right and proper for us to think carefully about how we might prove the existence of God.

But we need to be aware that the notion of proof itself is not as straightforward as it might initially seem. We’ve mentioned this before, but it is worth a reminder. Take, as one example, a standard syllogism, consisting of two premises and a conclusion:

Premise 1: All men are mortal
Premise 2: Socrates is a man
Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal

This syllogistic proof might seem utterly noncontroversial. But it’s important for us to remember the proper way to think about arguments. Technically, arguments are neither true nor false; propositions are. Arguments are categorized as valid/invalid or sound/unsound. So, the first question to ask about the argument above is, “Is it valid?” The answer is yes. But we need to recognize what we mean when we say that an argument is valid. A valid argument is one in which if the premises are true, the conclusion necessarily follows. So, if the premises above are true, the conclusion is inescapable.

The next, more complex and controversial, question that must be asked about any argument is, “Is it sound?” A sound argument is a valid argument whose premises are agreed to be true. So, the next question to ask about the argument above is whether or not the premises are true? Is it true that “All men are mortal?”

Our intuitive response to that question is “Yes.” But then we might pause for a moment and think about that response. Is it the case the every single person who has ever existed has died? Once we ask this question we are drawn inevitably into the knotty “problem of knowledge” that has plagued philosophy since its inception. The question of the truth of Premise 1 moves us to a further question: “How do we know that Premise 1 is true (or false)?”

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