Weekend Broadcast

Law of Contradiction

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Most people who deny the existence of God base their beliefs on just a few fundamental arguments. One of the most common reasons for agnosticism today is relativism, or the belief that there is no absolute truth. In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul explains how to use the basic tools of logic to defend the truth of the gospel against relativism.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Contradiction Vs. Paradox

  2. article

    All Truth Is God’s Truth

  3. article

    Faith and Reason

Contradiction Vs. Paradox

Dr. Sproul has done us a great service in helping to understand the relationship between faith and reason. We have explored the noetic effects of sin, the role of the mind, the modern neglect of the intellect and the law of noncontradiction. Today, in our final study from the series Faith and Reason, we will demonstrate how the Christian faith never abandons, but rather utilizes the law of noncontradiction.

Yesterday we said that the law of noncontradiction states that “A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship.” The qualifiers “same time” and “same relationship” are very important. Some attempt to deny the law of noncontradiction by giving examples from the natural world that seem to render the law invalid. One example of this might be water. Water can be both a liquid and a gas and so therefore, the law of noncontradiction must not be true. However, the qualifier “same time,” makes this an inaccurate assumption. A molecule of water can be both a liquid and a gas, but that molecule is never both a liquid and a gas at the same time.

The qualifier “same relationship” is also very important. We see a good example of this in Christian theology. Many people mistakenly believe that when we confess the doctrine of the Trinity, we confess a contradiction. The doctrine of the Trinity, as traditionally formulated, states that God is one in essence and three in person. But this is not a contradiction because the way (or relationship) in which God is one is not the same as the way in which He is three. God is one in essence but three in person. If we said God was one in essence and three in essence, we would have a contradiction in the very being of God and would thus have to reject this teaching.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not a contradiction. Rather, it is a mystery, a paradox of sorts, something that appears at first glance to be contradiction, but when explored further really is not. The Christian faith has many paradoxes, but no contradictions.

The law of noncontradiction is presupposed in everything we do. If it were not true, all of the words on this page could have an infinite number of contradictory meanings and intelligible discourse would be impossible. The law of noncontradiction is not foreign to Christianity but is a tool to be eagerly embraced for faith and life.

All Truth Is God’s Truth

R.C. Sproul

Few books I have read have made a lasting impression on my mind and thought. One of them I read over fifty years ago. The title of the book was The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, and it made a lasting impression upon me because it clearly set forth the importance of understanding that all scientific theories presuppose certain philosophical premises. The philosophical premises that are the underpinning of scientific inquiry are often taken for granted and never given even a cursory exploration. But in a time when fierce debate rages between science and theology, it is important that we step back and ask questions about the pre-scientific theoretical foundations for the whole enterprise of knowledge.

The word science means “knowledge.” We tend to have a restricted view of the word as if knowledge only applies to the realm of empirical investigation. Besides material knowledge, we also have to take into account formal truth. In this regard we must consider mathematics as a genuine science, because math in its formal dimension yields real knowledge. In fact, if we look at the history of scientific progress, we see that the engine that has driven new breakthroughs and brought to bear new paradigms has more often than not been the engine of formal mathematics. But it is astonishing to see how frequently people engaged in material scientific research glibly pass over the philosophical presuppositions of their own work.

In Carl Sagan’s famous book entitled Cosmos, based on his television series of the same title, he makes the following statement: “Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things.” In this seemingly harmless definition of the entire structure of Sagan’s work, he assumes that the universe under investigation by science is a cosmos rather than a chaos. He speaks of cosmos “implying a deep interconnectedness of all things.” This is the grand presupposition of scientific inquiry, namely, that the universe we are seeking to know is coherent. There is an implied deep and profound interconnectedness of all things. The alternative to cosmos, as Sagan has indicated, is chaos. If the universe is at root chaotic, then the whole scientific enterprise collapses. If the universe is chaotic and disconnected, then no knowledge is possible at all. Even discreet bits of atomic data cannot be understood within the framework of utter chaos, so the presupposition of a coherent, rational order of all things is the screaming presupposition of scientists.

This idea of an assumed coherency has its roots in ancient philosophical inquiry. Ancient Greeks, for example, sought ultimate reality. They sought a foundational principle for unity that would make sense out of diversity. This ultimate unity is what the science of theology provides. The science of theology provides the necessary presupposition for modern science. This is precisely the point that led prominent philosopher Antony Flew to his conversion from atheism to deism — namely, the essential necessity of a coherent foundation to reality to make any knowledge possible. This ultimate coherency cannot be provided by the contingency of this world. It requires a transcendent order.

In the Middle Ages, a crisis ensued in the realm of philosophy with the revival of what Muslim thinkers called “integral Aristotelianism.” In their attempt to achieve a synthesis between Aristotelian philosophy and Muslim theology, these thinkers produced a concept called the “double-truth theory.” The double-truth theory argued that what was true in religion could be false in science, and what was true in science could at the same time be false in religion. To translate that into contemporary categories, it would go something like this: As a Christian, one could believe that the universe came into being through the purposive act of a divine Creator while at the same time believing that the universe emerged gratuitously as a cosmic accident. These two truths examined by logic would appear to be contradictory. Nevertheless, the double-truth theory would say that truth is contradictory, and one could hold these contradictory ideas at the same time. This kind of intellectual schizophrenia rules the day in our own time where people think that God had nothing to do with the formation of the cosmos from Monday to Saturday only to become creationists on Sunday, failing to see that the two concepts are utterly irreconcilable.

At this point, the question is raised, “Well, does logic really count in our attempt to understand reality?” Again, if we’re going to assume coherency and cosmos, logic has to count not just for something but for everything. Thomas Aquinas responded to the Aristotelianism of the medieval Muslim philosophers by replacing double truths with the concept of mixed articles, distinguishing nature and grace (not dividing them, as many of his critics allege). Aquinas said that there are certain truths that can be known through special revelation that are not discerned from investigation of the natural world, while at the same time there are certain truths learned from the study of nature that are not found, for example, in the Bible. One does not find the circulatory system of the human body clearly set forth in Scripture. What Aquinas was saying was that there are certain truths that are mixed articles, truths that can be known either from the Bible or by a study of nature. Among those mixed articles, he included the knowledge of the existence of a Creator.

The fundamental point, of course, that Aquinas was arguing, in agreement with his famous predecessor, Augustine, was that all truth is God’s truth, and that all truth meets at the top. If science contradicts religion, or if religion contradicts science, at least one of them must be wrong. There have been times in history where the scientific community has corrected not the Bible but poor interpretations of the Bible, as we saw in the Galileo scandal. On the other hand, biblical revelation can act as intellectual brakes upon scientific theories that are groundless. In any case, if knowledge is possible, what Sagan assumed must continue to be assumed — namely, that for truth to be known, for science to be possible, there must be a coherent reality that we are seeking to know.

Faith and Reason

Keith Mathison

It has been said that he who defines the terms, wins the debate. Skeptics know this and take advantage of it. Witness some of the famous definitions of "faith" provided by unbelievers. Mark Twain, for example, quipped, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." Closer to our own day, the atheist author Sam Harris defined faith as "the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail." Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most famous atheist of our generation, claims: "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."

The one thing all of these definitions have in common is the explicit or implicit idea that faith is in conflict with reason. Unfortunately, some Christians in the history of the church have said things that have provided support for this view of the relationship between faith and reason. Martin Luther, for example, made very strong negative statements about reason, many of which are quoted by skeptics in their attempts to prove that Christianity is inherently irrational. Luther called reason "the Devil's greatest whore." He said in a number of different contexts that reason should be destroyed. The context is crucial, because in these instances Luther was talking about the arbitrariness of unaided human reason to discern divine things. Still, his tendency toward hyperbole has played into the hands of skeptics.

The vast majority of Christians throughout history, however, have not rejected the right use of reason. This stems from their attempt to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture, which itself provides reasons to believe. John wrote his entire Gospel to provide reasons to believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:30–31). John, Peter, and Paul appeal to evidence for the claims they make (1 Cor. 15:5–6; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1–4). All human beings believe certain things based on the testimony of others. Christians believe what they believe based on the testimony of the Apostles. Such faith is a gift, but it is not divorced from reason.

If we are going to understand better the relationship between faith and reason, we must have a clearer understanding of these two words. The word faith is used in several different ways by Christian thinkers. It can refer to the beliefs that Christians share (the "Christian faith"). The word faith also can refer to our response to God and the promises of the gospel. This is what the Reformed Confessions mean when they speak of "saving faith" (for example, the WCF 14). This faith involves knowledge, assent, and trust. Finally, many philosophers and theologians have spoken of faith as a source of knowledge. As Caleb Miller explains, "The truths of faith are those that can be known or justifiedly believed because of divine revelation, and are justified on the basis of their having been revealed by God."

The word reason also has been used in different ways. It can refer to our human cognitive faculties. The relation of faith to reason in this sense involves asking whether Christian beliefs are reasonable. In other words, did we properly use our cognitive faculties in evaluating these beliefs? We can also use reason to refer to a source of knowledge. In contrast to the "truths of faith" known by divine revelation, the "truths of reason," in this sense, are truths known through natural faculties such as sense perception and memory. A conflict between knowledge derived through natural human faculties and knowledge derived from divine revelation occurs only if an apparent contradiction arises. Finally, in the narrowest sense, reason can be used to refer to logical reasoning. Christians should never argue that there is a conflict here because this faculty is part of who we are as human beings created in the image of God.

Most of the contemporary discussion about the supposed conflict between faith and reason has arisen in the context of discussions about science and religion. Space constraints prohibit a full discussion of this issue, but a few general points should be made in order to help us understand how to think about any alleged conflicts that arise. In the first place, we must acknowledge with Augustine, John Calvin, and many others that all truth is God's truth. That which is true is true because God revealed it, created it, or decreed it.

HE REVEALED IT: All that God reveals, whether through general revelation in His creation or through special revelation in Scripture, is necessarily true. It is impossible for God to lie.

HE CREATED IT: When we learn something about creation that corresponds with what God actually made, we have learned something true. God is the source of these truths by virtue of the fact that He is the Creator.

HE DECREED IT: God is the one who has decreed whatsoever comes to pass. When we learn something about history that is in accordance with what actually happened, we have learned something true to the extent that our knowledge corresponds with what actually happened, and what actually happened only happened, ultimately, because God decreed it.

A second major point that must be made is this: If all truth has its source in God and if all truth is unified, then one thing we know to be certain is that if there is a contradiction between an interpretation of Scripture and an interpretation of what God has created, then one or both of those interpretations is incorrect. They cannot both be correct. Christians must recognize that the conflict may be due to a misinterpretation of creation, to a misinterpretation of Scripture, or to a misinterpretation of both. This means we need to do a thorough and careful examination of both the scientific theory and the biblical exegesis to discover the source of the conflict. We must make sure we are dealing with the actual teaching of Scripture as opposed to a mistaken interpretation of Scripture. And we must examine the evidence for the scientific theory in question to discover whether we are dealing with something that is true about God's creation or something that is merely speculation. All of this hard work takes time, and it means that we do not jump to hasty conclusions.

God created us in His image as rational creatures. Our cognitive faculties were distorted by the fall, but they were not destroyed, and even unbelievers can use these faculties to discover truths about earthly things—as opposed to heavenly things, about which they are completely blind (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.12–21). We do not fully comprehend God, but this is because we are finite and God is infinite. Faith and reason, rightly understood, cannot be and are not in any real conflict.

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