The following is an excerpt taken from Norman Geisler’s “When Skeptics Ask, Chapter 12.
Additional Video Links at the end of this article.
QUESTIONS ABOUT TRUTH
“What is truth?” Pilate’s words ring with the cynicism of a man who has searched for it
but never found it. His implication is that there is no such thing. Pilate is not alone. Many
have followed the same road, so that what is taught in the schools is the same cynical
conclusion: There is no truth.
For the Christian, that view is not an option. Jesus said, “Thy word is truth” ( John
17:17 ), and He said again, “I am … the truth” ( 14:6 ). There is truth; but what is the
nature of truth? More important, how can we know truth?
Have you heard this one yet? “Whatever is true for you may not be true for me.” Or
how about, “I’m really glad you found something that works for you.” What good does it
do to tell someone about Jesus if he doesn’t realize that you are saying, “This is true for
everyone, everywhere, at all times, and it is not compatible with any opposing system of
beliefs”? If we are going to tell the world that we have the truth, then we better have
some idea of what truth is. How else can we make them understand?
IS TRUTH RELATIVE OR ABSOLUTE?
The claim that truth is relative might be understood as relative in two ways
Either truth is relative to time and space (it was true then, but not now), or it is relative to persons (true for me, but not for you). On the other hand, absolute truth implies at least two things: (1)
that whatever is true at one time and in one place is true at all times and in all places, and
(2) that whatever is true for one person is true for all persons. Absolute truth doesn’t
change; relative truth changes from time to time and person to person.
The relativist would say that the statement, “The pencil is to the left of the pad,” is
relative since it depends on which side of the desk you are standing. Place is always
relative to perspective, they say. But truth can be time-bound as well. At one time, it was
perfectly true to say, “Reagan is President,” but one can hardly say that now. It was true
at one time, but not now. The truth of such statements is irrevocably contingent on the
time at which they are said.
Likewise, the relativist claims that truth is dependent on the person making the
statement. If a Christian says, “Ye are gods” ( John 10:34 ), it means that we have the
image of God and are His representatives. If a Mormon says it, he is speaking of his hope
to be the deity of his own planet. If a pantheist says it, she means that humans are God.
The truth depends on the views of the one who makes the statement and his intended
meaning. Also, “I feel sick” may be true for me but not for everyone else in the world.
All these statements are true only in relation to the person who makes them.
But there seems to be a misunderstanding here. The interpretation of the relativist
appears to be misguided. As regards time and place, the perspective of the speaker,
temporal and spatial, is understood in the statement. For example, “Reagan is President,”
when said in 1986 is true and it always will be true. At no time will it cease to be true that
Reagan was President in 1986. If someone uses the same words in 1990, then he is
making a new and different truth claim, because the present tense is now four years
removed from the context of the other statement. The spatial and temporal context of
statements is an inherent part of the context which determines the meaning of that
assertion. However, if “Reagan is President” (said in 1986) is always true for everyone
everywhere, then it is an absolute truth. The same can be said about the pencil on the
desk. The perspective of the speaker is understood as part of the context. It is an absolute
“All Truth Is Perspectival”
Many people will tell you that all truth is really true from a certain way of seeing
things or perspective. The old story of six blind men and the elephant is often used to
illustrate and support this position. One blind man, feeling only the trunk, thought that
it was a snake. Another discovered only the ears and concluded that it was a fan. The
one who came across the body said that it was a wall and, after finding a leg, another
said it was a tree. Another holding the tail declared it was a rope. Finally, the last
blind man felt a pointed tusk and informed them that it was a spear. To some, this
proves that what you think is true is only a matter of your perspective of things. It
should be pointed out, though, that all of the blind men were wrong. None of their
conclusions were true, so this illustration says nothing about truths. There really was
an objective truth that all of them failed to discover
Also, the statement, “All truth is perspectival,” is either an absolute statement or a perspectival one.
If it is absolute, then not all truths are perspectival. If it is perspectival, then there is no reason to think :
that it is absolutely true—it is only one perspective. It does not succeed either way.
But what about the second version of relativism, that truth is relative to persons? If
we take the case of the Christian, the Mormon, and the pantheist, we see that the same
problem of excluding perspective is involved. Using the same words does not guarantee
the same meaning. We must consider what the actual claim is in its context before we can
tell if it is true. What about, “I feel sick”? Guess what: personal pronouns don’t even
transfer as well as verb tenses. It doesn’t matter that the same words are used; when said
by different people, they take on a different meaning. Are these statements true for
everyone? Yes, it is true that the person called “I” in the sentence did feel sick at that
time and that must be acknowledged as true by everyone (though we have to take “I’s”
word about how he felt). In the same way, the meanings attached to the words “ye are
gods” truly reflect the views of the people who said them, and it will never be not true for
anyone, anytime, that those were their views when they stated them (even if they change
their views later).
Now about this time a relativist might say, “You are agreeing with me. You are
saying that truth is relative to the context.” That’s close. We are saying that meaning is
relative to the context. As for truth, we are saying that once the context is brought into the
picture, the meaning is understood and it becomes obvious that these are absolute truths.
We are not agreeing at all.
But relativism runs into other problems. If relativism were true, then the world would
be full of contradictory conditions. That pencil that we mentioned would be on all four
sides of the pad at the same time. “I” would have to be sick, well, angry, delighted,
hungry, stuffed, excited, and ambivalent all at once. How confusing! Such contradictory
conditions are impossible.
Also, no relativist can say, “It is absolutely true that this is true for me.” If truth can
only be relative, then it must only be relatively true for him. But wait a minute! THAT
can’t be claimed in any absolute sense either—it can only be relatively true that it is
relatively true for him. Should we keep going? Either the claim that truth is relative is an
absolute claim, which would falsify the relativist’s position, or it is an assertion that can
never be made, because every time you make it you have to add another “relatively.” It is
just the beginning of an infinite regress that will never pay off in a real statement.
“Life Is but a Dream”
Some might tell you that we each create our own reality. What is real to you is not
real to me because your dream is not my dream. In fact, you only perceive me in your
dream and don’t know whether I am real or not. Not only is truth subjective, there is
no absolute reality to be known. All reality is nothing but imagination run wild.
Something intuitively tells us that this view can’t be true. First, “nothing but”
statements assume “more than” knowledge.
But how can anyone have knowledge that is beyond their own dream?
For that matter, how can you have knowledge that is
“more than” all of reality? One would have to be omniscient to say this. Furthermore,
is this a statement about absolute reality or only about one person’s dream? If it is
really a statement about “all reality” in an absolute sense, then it cannot be true—for
at least this statement is true whether someone imagines it or not. But if it is only a
subjective statement about one person’s dream, then it makes no claim to be true and
can be dismissed. It might not hurt to remind such a person that he should not talk in
Of course, there are some benefits to relativism. It means that you can never be
wrong. As long as it is right for me, I’m right even when I’m wrong! Isn’t that
convenient? The drawback is that I could never learn anything either, because learning is
moving from a false belief to a true one—that is, from an absolutely false belief to an
absolutely true one. Maybe we’d better give absolutism another look.
Some people see problems in absolutism. “Don’t you have to have absolute evidence
to believe in absolute truth?” No. The truth can be absolute no matter what our grounds
for believing it are. We might not even know a truth, but it is still absolute in itself. The
truth doesn’t change just because we learn something about it.
“What about in-between things—like what warm means, or when not shaving
becomes a beard—how can those things be absolute?” The fact that it is in-between to me
is an absolute fact for all men, even if it is not in-between to them. Also, the condition
itself, the real temperature and the exact length of the beard, are objective and real
conditions. That truth doesn’t change either.
“You Christians Are So Closed-Minded”
Open-mindedness has become a self-evident virtue in our society and a closed mind,
a sign of ignorance and depravity. However, this thinking is based on half-truths.
Surely, it is good to admit the possibility that one might be wrong and never good to
maintain a position no matter what the evidence is against it. Also, one should never
make a firm decision without examining all the evidence without prejudice. That is
the half-truth that ropes us into this view, but a half-truth is a whole lie. Are we still to
remain open-minded when all reason says that there can be only one conclusion? That
is the same as the error of the closed mind. In fact, openness is the most closedminded position of all because it eliminates any absolute view from consideration.
What if the absolute view is true? Isn’t openness taken to be absolute? In the long
run, openness cannot really be true unless it is open to some real absolutes that cannot
be denied. Open-mindedness should not be confused with empty-mindedness. One
should never remain open to a second alternative when only one can be true.
“If truth never changes, then there can’t be any new truth.” New truth can be
understood in two ways. It might mean “new to us,” like a new discovery in science. But
that is only a matter of us discovering an old truth. The truth has always been there, but
we are just finding out about it.
The other way we might understand new truth is that something new has come into existence.
Absolutism has no trouble handling this either.
When January 1, 2022 arrives, a new truth will be born because then it will be true to say,
“This is January 1, 2022.” That can never be true before then. “Old” truths don’t change
but “new” truths can come to be.
IS TRUTH CORRESPONDENT OR COHERENT?
There are two basic views of what truth is. One says that truth is what corresponds to
reality. The other says that a view is true if it coheres or holds together as an internally
consistent set of statements. The former says that truth is what corresponds to reality.
Truth is “telling it like it is.” The latter compares truth to a web hanging in space so that
its own network of connections upholds it. Like a chain, each link is dependent on the
others to hold it together.
The implications of the coherence theory are that some truths are truer than others
because they cohere better. There are degrees of truth and any statement is true only to
the extent that it fits into the system.
Saying that there are degrees of truth, as the coherentist does, and that all truths are
dependent is just another way of saying that all truth is relative. If all statements are
dependent (contingent) on the system, then no truth can be absolute. Even the system as a
whole is not absolute, because it depends on the coherence of all of its contingent parts. If
one statement can be more or less true than another statement, isn’t that the same as
saying that its truth is relative to the truth of the other? But we have already shown that
truth is, and must be, absolute. If the coherence theory says that truth is relative, then the
theory must be wrong.
HOW TO JUSTIFY TRUTH
Another objection to the coherentist view is that it makes truth dependent on an infinite
regress that will never arrive at any truth. If every truth claim presupposes some other
claim, and so on to infinity, then we have an infinite regress that will never assure us that
we have arrived at truth. For every explanation we give of why our belief is true, we
would have to explain its presuppositions, and then explain that explanation, and so on
forever. We could never finish explaining anything. If we did find an explanation that
needed no further explanation, then we will have arrived at a foundation (a self-evident
truth or undeniable first principle), and the coherence view was wrong to begin with. C.S.
Lewis put it this way:
But you cannot go on “explaining away” forever: you will find that you have explained
explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole
point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the
window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if
you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to “see through” first principles.
If you see through everything then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world
is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.
If we have to look behind or “see through” every explanation, then we will never find
anything. But don’t we search for truth because we expect to find something?
This infinite regress makes coherentism impossible. It is really a chain of unsupported
claims. After all, a chain can’t just hang in the air by itself; there has got to be a peg
somewhere that holds the whole chain up. And spiders don’t build webs in empty space.
They attach them to the walls. No system can stand without some absolute truth to
support it. Also, the best that a coherentist can do in evaluating other systems of belief is
to say that his system coheres better. He can never say that any other coherent system is
false. In that case, we could never refute pantheism, because once you throw out logic,
Truth must be based on a firm foundation of self-evident truths or first principles that
correspond to reality. We will discuss self-evident truths a little later, but let’s focus on
the correspondence part of the definition for right now. There are several reasons for
accepting it, both from the Bible and from philosophy.
The Scriptures use the correspondence view of truth quite a bit. The ninth
commandment certainly presupposes it. “You shall not bear false witness against your
neighbor” ( Ex. 20:16 ) implies that the truth or falsity of a statement can be tested by
whether it checks out with the facts. When Satan said, “You shall not surely the,” it is
called a lie because it does not correspond to what God actually said.
Jack Rogers’ View of Truth
Jack Rogers, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, has given the definition of
truth that is currently being used to say that the Bible is infallible in its intentions
(purpose), but not inerrant in its affirmations. He says, “to confuse ‘error’ in the sense
of technical accuracy with the biblical notion of error as willful deception diverts us
from the serious intent of Scripture.” He rejects the idea that truth must correspond to
reality with “technical accuracy.” Rather, he asserts that the “biblical notion of error”
involves knowingly telling a lie. Truth resides in the intention of the author rather
than what he actually said. This is confirmed when he says that inerrancy distracts us,
not from the message of Scripture, but from its “intent.” As long as the prophets and
disciples did not know any better than to make unscientific statements, they cannot be
considered errors because there was no intentional deception. Though Jesus may have
known better. He chose to accommodate to the popular views so that people would
not be distracted from His intended message, the Gospel. Those who hold this view
are sincere, but they are sincerely wrong.
1 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan Co., 1947), p. 91.
Joseph also used the correspondence theory when he said to his brothers, “Send one
of you that he may get your brother.…that your words may be tested, whether there is
truth in you” ( Gen. 42:16 ). Moses said that a prophet should be tested by seeing if his
prophecies correspond to actual events ( Deut. 18:22 ). When Solomon built the temple
he said, “Let Your word that You promised Your servant David my father come true” ( 1
Kings 8:26 , NIV ). Anything that does not correspond to God’s Law is considered false (
Ps. 119:163 ). And in the New Testament, Jesus says that His claims can be verified by
John the Baptist, saying, “You have sent to John and he has borne witness to the truth.”
The Jews also told the governor that he could “learn the truth” ( Acts 24:8 , 11 ) about the
charges they brought against Paul by examining the facts.
Philosophically, lying is impossible without a correspondence to reality. If our words
do not need to correspond to the facts, then they can never be factually incorrect. Without
a correspondence view of truth, there can be no true or false. There would be no real
difference in the accuracy of how a system describes a given fact because we could not
appeal to the fact as evidence. Statements could not be judged as true or false, but only
more or less cohesive. There has got to be a real difference between our thoughts about
things and the things themselves for us to say whether something is true or false.
Furthermore, all factual communication would break down. Statements that inform you
of something must correspond to the facts about which they claim to be giving
information. But if those facts are not to be used in evaluating the statement, then I really
haven’t told you anything. I have merely babbled something that you ought to consider
and weigh its relevance to your own system of thought. Now this could be quite
dangerous if you were crossing the street and my statement was to inform you that a
Mack truck was coming. How long should you take to see if that fits into your overall
network of beliefs? (And does not the Gospel carry the same kind of urgency?)
Correspondence to reality is a philosophical prerequisite for truth and truthful
IS TRUTH INTENTIONS OR PERSONS?
Another theory is that truth is not a quality of propositions, but of intentions. Adherents
of this theory say that the meaning of any statement lies not in what it says about reality,
but in what the person intended to affirm when he said it. A statement is considered true
if it achieves its intended purpose and false only if it is intended to mislead someone.
Hence, a person can make statements which do not correspond to the facts but are not lies
or errors because the person meant to tell the truth—he did not intend to deceive. This
view has special relevance to the debate about whether there are errors in the Bible in that
some claim there can be factual inconsistencies in the Bible and still call the Scriptures
infallible. It is claimed that they infallibly accomplish their purpose of leading men to
Christ and the authors never intentionally deceived anyone.
The correspondence view says that truth resides in propositions. Meaning is a
disclosure of the author’s intentions, but it can only be discovered by looking at what he
actually said. Since we cannot read the author’s mind when we want to know the
meaning of a statement, we look at the statement itself.
Only when we see the proper relation of all the words in the sentence, and the sentence to the paragraph, etc., do we
understand the big meaning of the affirmation. Then we check it against reality to see if it
is true or false.
Is truth ever in a person rather than a proposition? Out of the hundred or so times that
“truth” is used in the New Testament, only one passage indisputably uses truth of a
Person ( John 14:6 ). Other texts refer to truth being in a person ( 1:14 , 17 ; 8:44 ; 1 John
2:4 ) or walking in truth ( 2 John 4 ). However, the context of these clarifies that the truth
is tested by the correspondence between the person’s behavior and God’s commands,
which are propositions. So even here truth is correspondence. Persons, their character,
and conduct can correspond to reality as well as propositions can. The emphasis of the
biblical text is certainly on prepositional truth. And passages where truth is used of a
person can be understood as relating to the truthfulness of that person’s words or works,
as to whether or not they correspond to God’s reality.
Even if some passages do use truth as a quality of persons, only the correspondence
view can accommodate both interpretations. The personal view says that truth does not
reside in propositions, but a correspondence view can say that the persons or actions in
question must correspond to God’s expectations. And the passages where truth is clearly
seen as propositional and correspondent cannot all be explained in a noncorrespondence
Just to top it off, any attempt to deny that truth is expressible in propositions is selfdefeating ,because it is a truth claim expressed in a proposition. Hence, the correspondence view of truth must be accepted for truth to reside in both persons and propositions.
IS TRUTH KNOWABLE?
Even among Christians there is a wide range of beliefs about how and how much we can
know about truth, especially truth about God. If what we have said so far is true though,
then only one of these positions is really reasonable.
There is a real difference between agnosticism and skepticism but the answers to both of
them are almost identical. Agnosticism says that nothing can be known, but skepticism
only says that we should doubt whether anything can be known. Skepticism came along
first, but as Immanuel Kant read David Hume’s doubts about absolute knowledge, he
decided to take it one step farther and disclaimed all knowledge of reality. Really both of
these views are self-defeating. If you know that you don’t know anything, then at least
you know that much. But that means you have positive knowledge of something and you
no longer have to be agnostic. Likewise, you may say that you should doubt everything,
but you don’t doubt that. That is, you don’t doubt that you should doubt. Now if there is one thing that you can be certain of (to the skeptic), or one thing that you can know (to
the agnostic), then there might be other things, and your position has proven itself to be
Dealing with Skeptics
One great philosopher had an effective way to deal with skepticism. When
encountered by people who claimed to doubt everything, he would ask, “Do you
doubt your own existence?” If they answered yes, then he would point out that they
must exist in order to doubt and that certainty should remove their doubts. If they
answered no, then he could show them that there are at least some things which are
beyond doubt. To counter this assault on their doctrines, Ac skeptics decided to
simply remain silent. Then they would not be caught in his trap. The philosopher was
not shaken though. At that point, he simply said, “I guess there is nobody here after
all. I may as well go talk to somebody who exists.” And he walked away.
Rationalism is not merely a view that says we use reason to test truth. Rationalism says
that we can determine all truth by logic. It says that we can rationally prove the existence
and nature of God. For a rationalist, no appeal to evidence can overturn a logical
demonstration. That is why Spinoza, having proven to his own satisfaction that all reality
was unified in absolute being, denied that anything in the world had existence distinct
from God, or that there was any free will. That is why Leibniz maintained that this is the
best of all possible worlds, no matter how bad things get. He was convinced by
rationalism that only the greatest good can exist. All truth is logically necessary to a
Oddly enough, the most stubborn rationalists in the world are pantheists, who don’t
believe in reason. Even from pantheism’s earliest statements in Western culture,
pantheists have begun with one principle and derived all others from it: All is one.
Now if that is true, they say, then whatever seems to be more than one must be
illusion. Hence, there is no matter, no evil, no right and wrong, etc. All of these things
follow from the one principle and are determined by a rationalistic method that allows
no evidence to contradict it. Most extraordinarily, rationalism leads them to the
rejection of reason. For once the distinction between true and false is removed, then
rationalism demands that logic be revoked. Reason, having gotten them this far, must
now be jettisoned because of the determinative nature of their original principle.
Rationalism becomes the foe of reason.
The big problem with rationalism is that it is a castle built in the air that has no link
with reality. It assumes—but does not prove—that the rationally inescapable is the real.
In fact, in all of its logical rationalizing, it never proves that anything real even exists.
The only way that rationalism can overcome these weaknesses is to quit being
rationalism and begin accepting some empirical evidence. Also, my own existence is
actually undeniable, but it is not logically necessary. There is nothing in my existence
that even suggests that I, or anything else, must exist, yet rationalism says, again without
solid proof, that this is logically necessary. Finally, when rationalism tries to prove its
own principles to offer a justification for itself, it fails doubly. The attempt itself is futile
because everyone from Aristotle to the present has agreed that first principles cannot be
proven; they must be self-evidently true and in need of no further explanation. Otherwise
you have to go on explaining forever. But rationalists fail again in that they don’t agree
on what the first principles are. Some end up in pantheism, some in theism, some with
finite gods, but none with the rationally necessary basis that they claim will justify their
Fideism holds that the only way we can know anything about God is by faith. Truth is
subjective and personal, so we can believe it but not prove it. There are no rational proofs
or empirical evidence that can lead us to knowledge of God. We must simply believe that
what He has said in His Word and done in our lives is true. Ultimately, as the old hymn
says, “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart.” Søren Kierkegaard is
a spokesman of this view.
“Truth Is Subjectivity”
Søren Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, wrote an essay with this title. He
was concerned that, if Christianity was accepted only as a set of propositions, then it
would never lead one to a relationship with God. Hence, rather than focusing on the
objective truth of the faith, he stressed that it must be true to the individual or it is not
true at all. Faith “that” something was true was surpassed by faith “in” something.
“But the above definition for truth is an equivalent expression for faith. Without
risk there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion
of the individual’s inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am capable of
grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I
must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon
holding fast the objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy
fathoms of water, still preserving my faith.” [ Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific
Postscript, trans. by David F. Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963),
Now we certainly don’t want to demean the importance of faith. In fact, we often cite
the phrase of Augustine, “I believe in order that I may understand.” Also, logical
arguments are certainly not the basis of religious commitment. However, fideism has the
right answers for the wrong reasons. We can’t begin by assuming that God exists and has
revealed Himself in the Bible and works in the lives of His people. Those are the very
things that the unbeliever questions.
The main problem is that fideism doesn’t recognize the difference between belief in
and belief that. Evidence and logical proofs can assist us toward belief that God exists,
the Bible is His Word, etc., but they cannot make us commit our lives to those truths.
Commitment is belief and trusting in the Lord. Fideists only see the latter and overlook
the need for the former. Hence, they make no distinction between the basis of belief in
God (the truth of His Word) and the support or warrant for that belief. They require men
to believe in God without allowing them to first understand that there is a God to be
believed (see Heb. 11:6 ).
Besides, if faith alone is the only way to know truth, why not have faith in the Koran
or the Book of Mormon? Fideism doesn’t really attempt to justify any beliefs, so we
could simply believe anything that we wanted. The net result is that fideism really makes
no truth claims. It has to offer some way to test truth before it can make a truth claim.
Since it doesn’t have any test for truth, it can’t really make any claim to be true. It isn’t
even in the marketplace pushing its claims as true. Now if someone does begin to offer
some explanation or defense of why he is a fideist, then he has ceased to be one. The
minute he offers anything other than, “Believe it,” as support for his position, he has
stopped being a fideist and begun using justifiable beliefs. Either fideism is making no
truth claims or it is self-defeating. In either case, it cannot answer the question of how we
know about God.
The final view says that we can know some things about God. The other views are either
inconsistent or self-defeating. This one stands. We can’t know everything (rationalism),
for there is no way that a finite mind can comprehend all of an infinite being. But we do
know something because agnosticism is self-defeating. This is a reasonable and realistic
view. But the question remains. How do we know what we know about God? And that is
the last question we have to consider.
IS TRUTH LOGICAL?
We can know what we know about God because thought applies to reality. In that
context, knowledge is possible. If thought does not apply to reality, then we can know
nothing. Logic is a necessary presupposition of all thought. Without logic (the laws of
thought), we can’t even think. But is it only a presupposition? How do we know that
logic applies to reality? We know it because it is undeniable.
Now this gets us back to those self-evident first principles that we mentioned earlier.
Don’t let that scare you. You can understand Winnie-the-Pooh, can’t you? Well, Pooh
had an adventure that illustrates how self-evident principles work. He was walking
through the forest when he came to Rabbit’s house.
So he bent down, put his head into the hole, and called out: “Is anybody at home?”
There was a sudden scuffling noise from inside the hole, and then silence.
“What I said was, ‘Is anybody home?’ “ called out Pooh very loudly.
“No!” said a voice; and then added, “You needn’t shout so loud. I heard you quite
well the first time.”
“Bother!” said Pooh. “Isn’t there anybody here at all?”
Winnie-the-Pooh took his head out of the hole, and thought for a little, and he
thought to himself, “There must be somebody there, because somebody must have said
See, it’s that simple. We’ve been doing it together all through the book.
A selfevident principle is one that cannot be denied without assuming that it is true in the
process of the denial. Rabbit’s statement is really the reverse of this. It’s self-defeating,
and you have seen that word several times in this chapter. If you have to assume that a
statement is true in order to deny it, it is actually undeniable. First principles, which are
the starting point of all truth and the foundation of all thought, are these kind of
Logic applied to reality is a key example. Now all logic can be reduced to one single
axiom—the law of noncontradiction. This law says that no two opposite statements can
both be true at the same time in the same sense. Logicians usually simplify that to A is
not non-A. If we try to deny that, we get, “Two contradictory statements can be true,” or
“A is not [not non-A].” Both of these statements have a problem. They assume what they
are trying to deny. In the first, it still assumes that there can be truth without the law of
noncontradiction. But if opposites can be true then there is no difference between true
and false, so this statement cannot be true, as it claims to be. The symbolic form does the
same thing by clinging to the idea that A is still identifiable from anything else. The law
of noncontradiction cannot be denied because any denial assumes that opposites cannot
be true, and that is exactly what is being denied. So we find that the basis of logic is an
undeniable first principle.
But the statement, “Logic applies to reality,” is also undeniable. To say that logic
does not apply to reality, you have to make a logical statement about it. But if it takes a
logical statement to deny logic, then your actions defeat the purpose of your words.
Either way, logic must apply to reality. And if logic applies to reality, then we can use it
to test truth claims about reality.
2 A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (New York: Dutton, 1961), p. 24. But let’s back up. Why do there have to be some self-evident, undeniable first principles? As we said before, agnosticism is self-defeating. We do know something.
And we know that it is impossible for every truth claim to be dependent on another truth
so that an infinite regress develops. Therefore, there must be some truths that stand all by
themselves and don’t need any further justification. We can’t get behind them or “see
through” them to find out why they are like that. That is why they are called first
principles—they have no other principles before them. It’s not that they are without
justification; rather, they justify themselves by being undeniable.
Really, we can recognize that these ideas are self-evident by intuition, without having
to test them by attempting to deny them. But sometimes we don’t understand what they
really mean, and the denial test brings this out.
In other words, sometimes they are selfevident in themselves, but not to us because we don’t understand them well enough. That
explains why these truths are not universally accepted and why we sometimes have to
examine them to see that they are undeniable.
What are some self-evident truths? We can find examples in every area of thought.
Without attempting an explanation, here are a few. All of these have been used at least
once in this book. See if you can recognize them as you use the book.
I. Self-evident propositions about logic
A. Law of noncontradiction (A is not non-A).
B. Law of identity (A is A).
C. Law of excluded middle (either A or non-A).
D. Laws of valid inference.
II. Self-evident propositions about knowledge
A. Something can be known.
B. Opposites cannot both be true.
C. Everything cannot be false.
III. Self-evident propositions about existence
A. Something exists (e.g., I do).
B. Nothing cannot produce something.
C. Everything that comes to be is caused. These principles become the foundation for all knowledge. From this point,logic and evidence can confirm that God exists and that Christ is His Son. Truth has an absolute
foundation in undeniable first principles and it can be tested through logical means
because it ultimately corresponds to reality. Christianity claims to be true and it bids all to
come in and dine at the table of truth.
Errors of Bart Ehrman