Discerning Falsehood

I would like to propose the following axiom:

If a statement can be logically proved to be true, then it is true. And if it can be logically proved to be false, then it is false.

By “logically” I mean “under the rules of logic.” And a “statement” can of course be a person's position on a topic, as long as that position can be stated. And a position or statement can include an entire belief system.

It is possible to believe that truth sometimes transcends human logic, and one of the benefits of this position is the ability to believe in something logic proves to be false. The problem with this position is that it is by definition irrationality. Anyone who assumes it must admit that his or her views cannot be justified by rational discussion. Furthermore, by assuming this position, an individual surrenders all rights to be critical of any one else's belief systems, and it is impossible to have a rational discussion with anyone holding this position. Assuming such a position of irrationality, all discussion of the relative merits of all other positions are limited to comparing the relative accuracies of the feelings of different people, which is absurd. Thus, we may not be able to prove the veracity of the above axiom, but since all discussion is meaningless without it, we must accept it in order to have any further discussion of truth.

Next, I would like to consider a potential corollary to the above axiom:

If a statement is true, it must be possible to logically prove it to be true. And if a statement is false, it must be possible to logically prove it to be false.

Assuming that we are limiting ourselves to logical analysis performed by mortal human beings in this corollary, it is clearly false. It states that all truth can be justified based on available evidence, or in other words that all truth is known to humanity. Since it is false, the following corollary must be true:

It is possible for a statement to be true even if it cannot be proved to be true. And it is possible for a statement to be false even if it cannot be proved to be false.

With the above axiom and corollary as background, I would like to consider how we can use discernment to weed out false belief systems. One way of proving that a belief system is false is to show that it contradicts either itself or known truth. For example, if a belief system is based on the teachings of a person who claims to be a prophet, and that prophet teaches that true prophets never lie in the role of prophet, and that prophet is caught in the act of lying in his role as prophet, then that belief system contradicts itself. Since it contradicts itself, it is proved logically to be false, and thus it is false. In another example, if a prophet claims that he translated a document from one language to another under the power of prophecy, and experts universally agree that his translation is bogus, then the prophet has contradicted known truth.

However, we must use caution when discrediting belief systems using proof of contradiction. We must not presume conclusive proof when we have only discovered apparent proof. There are at least three conditions in which there is a appearance of contradiction without actual contradiction.

First, a paradox is a condition in which there appears to be a contradiction as the result of superficial observation. Take for example, the doctrine of Trinity, which can be briefly stated as “the one true God exists eternally as three distinct Persons.” Upon superficial observation this seems to say that one is three, or that one god is three gods, or that one person is three persons, and if it did it would indeed be self-contradictory. But it doesn't. The Bible consistently refers to the one true God of heaven, and the New Testament consistently refers to three distinct Persons in the Godhead. It is always one God, and it is always three Persons, and there is no contradiction in the statement. (See Trinity for the Biblical references in support of this doctrine.)

Second, a mystery is a condition which cannot be explained and which is often counterintuitive. Although it may create an emotional reaction in an observer that is similar to the reaction created by a contradiction, it really has none of the properties of a contradiction at all. For example, the Biblical accounts of Jesus raising people from the dead are hard to believe because raising people from the dead seems to be impossible. Furthermore, since there is no documentation of anyone being raised from the dead in secular history, it is counterintuitive. But this is an application of the corollary stated earlier. Just because it can't be proved today that Jesus actually did raise people from the dead, that doesn't prove that the accounts are false.

Third, people sometimes react to a statement with such a firm opinion that the statement is wrong, they assume that it must contradict some fundamental law without searching to find what law is supposedly contradicted. For example, consider the directions that God gave to the children of Israel regarding the disposition of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. It hard to accept that a God that we view as loving and forgiving would prescribe such ruthless treatment of the Canaanites. It is so difficult to accept that we are inclined to assume that it cannot be true even though we don't fully comprehend the circumstances and we don't comprehend God. But a strong emotional reaction is not factual evidence. God is not created by us. We are the ones that have been created. People may not like what they read about God, but that isn't logical proof that He doesn't exist.

© 2005 William C. Hamer