Formulating Adequate Tests For Truth

Formulating Adequate Tests For Truth

Formulating Adequate Tests For Truth
Formulating Adequate Tests For Truth

In the preceding chapters we have set forth and evaluated various tests for truth. Each in turn has proven itself inadequate in testing the truth of a world view for different reasons. But behind each insufficient test for truth has been at least one common element: the inability to establish one system and eliminate all competing systems that claim truth. Time has now come to attempt an adequate alternative.

There will be two levels to this proposal: first, the basis for testing the truth of an overall world view such as theism or pantheism; second, the means of testing for the truth of competing truth claims within a world view.

The Test for Truth of a World View

A summary of the results to this point is necessary to understanding the direction of this proposal. It was concluded that all the other proposed tests for truth failed for the same basic reason(s). This conclusion, however, cannot be used to conclude agnosticism or skepticism since these alternatives are self-defeating.

Self-Defeating Nature of Positions That Deny Truth Can Be Known

Skepticism recommends a suspension of judgment about truth. The skeptic claims that dilemmas, equipollence of arguments, divergence of opinion, the relativity of thought, and so forth, lead one to conclude that truth is unknowable. The wise man will simply withhold belief, we are told by the skeptic. As commendable as this view may be in many cases, it cannot be consistently applied to all truth claims. Complete skepticism is self-defeating. The very affirmation that all truth is unknowable is itself presented as a truth affirmation.1

As a truth statement purporting that no truth statements can be made it undercuts itself. If it is not a truth statement or if it is not a universal truth statement, then it is not even in the philosophical arena. In short, the claim of the skeptic and agnostic that “truth is unknowable” is either:

(1) a universal truth claim, (2) a particular truth claim, or (3) neither a universal nor particular truth claim. If it is a universal truth claim, then it undercuts itself, for it is claiming that no true statements (including its own) can be made. If it is offered only as a particular truth claim, namely, that some (many, most, etc.) truths cannot be known, then it is self-consistent.

However, in this case it does not eliminate the possibility that one can know or establish the truth of some other world view. And if the question of the truth of these views is important or momentous to a person, then it would be a kind of defeatism, if not a cruelty, to dissuade him from attempting to discover what seemed so significant to his life and thought.

Finally, if the skeptic claims he is making no truth claim at all with his recommendation to suspend judgment about all truth claims, then he must explain how a statement about whether truth is knowable can avoid being a truth statement. To turn the tables, why could not one be skeptical about all skeptical statements without himself being a skeptic? Or, how can the skeptic claim sanctuary in alleged meta-truth statements about what is knowable in the realm of truth?

The very claim that the premise of skepticism (“all truth is unknowable”) is not a truth claim would automatically disqualify it philosophically, for philosophy is concerned with truth. To allow meta-truth or nontruth statements to dictate whether or not one can know truth is as unphilosophical as one can get. So if the skeptic maintains that his claim is a truth statement, then it is self-defeating (if universal) or unsuccessful (if limited). Otherwise it is not a truth claim—in which case it is not even philosophical, that is, it has nothing to do with truth.

The claim that skepticism is merely a nontruth proposal about the question of truth which one finds most fruitful and usable for whatever theoretical or practical reasons will not suffice. First, this proposal does not eliminate contrary positions. One may conclude that dogmatism is right for the same reasons. Second, this proposal implies a consistency or pragmatic test for the truth of skepticism and opens it to all the criticisms of these positions (see Chapters 2, 6, 7).

Furthermore, especially the pragmatic test for the skeptical proposal is double-edged and it boomerangs. Skepticism may not work for most in the long run. Indeed, as Hume confessed, one of the most persistent arguments against skepticism is that even the skeptic can not live it completely and consistently. Hence, skepticism cannot be established pragmatically. And even if the allegedly nontruth proposal of skepticism were not defeated pragmatically, it is still self-defeating. No statement about all truth can disavow all truth implications, and the skeptical proposal is a statement about all truth.

Even working presuppositions about truth must be cognitive and meaningful. And whatever is meaningful must be subject to truth or falsity via the law of noncontradiction, for apart from noncontradiction one cannot even know what the statement means. But if the skeptical proposal is subject to the truth test of noncontradiction, it cannot avoid being offered as a truth statement. In short, to disclaim the possibility of knowing any truth is indeed a truth claim of the highest and most serious kind. Truth cannot be denied unless some truth is being affirmed.

Agnosticism is likewise self-defeating.2 In its unlimited form it claims that all knowledge about reality (i.e., truth) is impossible. But this itself is offered as a truth about reality, in which case it defeats itself. In the weaker form of limited agnosticism there is no problem but neither is there success in eliminating all knowledge about reality. Simply to affirm that one does not (or even cannot) know something about reality does not really eliminate the possibility that he can (or even does) know something about reality.

But the disclaimer of allknowledge about reality is self-stultifying, for it is offered as a truth about reality that no truths about reality can be known. If true, this would be false. For if it is true about reality that no truth can be affirmed of reality, then neither can this alleged truth (of agnosticism) be true about reality. But if it is not a true claim about reality, then it must be false. Hence, if it were true, then it would be false. And if it is false, then it is false. So in either case total agnosticism cannot be true.

There is a more subtle form of philosophical agnosticism to which even evangelical thinkers fall victim.3 It may be called the perspectivity of all truth. The basic premise is that even though truth is knowable, nonetheless all truth is perspectival. What is not always clearly seen nor fully appreciated under cover of the apparent humility in this position is that it either harbors within its bosom a radical dogmatism or else it reduces to a complete agnosticism. Either the claim is that all truth is perspectival, or else it claims that all truth except this view of truth is perspectival.

If it means the former, then it is either self-defeating or special pleading. It is self-defeating to say all truth is perspectival including this one nonperspectival statement about all truth. In this case one is making a nonperspectival statement to the effect that all truth including itself is perspectival. On the other hand, if one claims special status for that one statement to the effect that all other statements are perspectival except his, then he is special pleading. Why cannot any other opposing position claim the same for itself?

Why cannot a nonperspectivalist claim that the perspectivity view is itself only a limited perspective on reality? In which case a broader perspective might eliminate the need to say that all truth is limited by perspective. Indeed, the central issue of the perspectivity view misses the very nature of a total world view. There are limited perspectives within an overall view, but the overall view itself is no longer a claim about limited perspectives. Hence, if perspectivity is offered as a world view, then it is either self-defeating or else it is in the same category as other world views.

For if the perspectivity view is an overall perspective on everything that is—which is what “world view” means—the so-called perspectivity view, like any other view, is no longer a limited perspective. One may have a limited basis for justifying that he is taking this nonperspectival view of everything that is; nevertheless, the perspective he is taking in the view is not one among many limited stances but is the overall view that he considers to be the only true and ultimate way to look at all things.

That is precisely what a metaphysical position is, namely, the claim to possess the one true way to look at all of reality. Hence, the apparent humility of the perspectivity people is a confusion of the limited basis for taking a metaphysical position and the unlimited or all-encompassing perspective demanded by the very nature of the world view taken. A finite person’s basis will always be limited, but his view can be all-encompassing. One’s grasp of metaphysical truth is conditioned by his finitude; but the truth itself, if it is metaphysical, is unconditional.


The Inadequacy of Alternative Tests for Truth

The Inadequacy of Alternative Tests for Truth
The Inadequacy of Alternative Tests for Truth

Six alternative tests for truth were examined in the preceding chapters: rationalism, fideism, experientialism, evidentialism, combinationalism, and pragmatism. Each was weighed in the balances and found wanting for different reasons. The one insufficiency common to all these tests for truth is that none of them could definitively establish one worldview over another. Whatever applicability they may have withina world view, none was sufficient to decide or adjudicate between or among world views.

Rationalism Is Insufficient.4 Rationalism in the strong form of logically inescapable arguments proves nothing, since there is no way to logically prove the very laws of thought which are used to prove things. All rational justification must come to an end in first principles. These first principles cannot be rationally proven, for if logic is used as the basis for proving logic, then one is simply arguing in a circle. Further, even granting the validity of the laws of thought, they cannot be validly used to demonstrate any reality by logical necessity.

It is always logicallypossible that nothing ever existed, including myself, the world, and God. Reality is not based on logical necessity. Nonexistence of everything is a conceivable state of affairs. And to say that the nonexistence of everything is an unaffirmable premise because someone must exist to have the conception or to make the affirmation only diverts the issue. For in this case one is defending the existence of something by its undeniability and not by its logical necessity. There is no logical necessity which demands that the conceiver or affirmer exist in the first place.

In the weak form of rationalism, that is, noncontradictoriness, it is also insufficient; for many competing world views may be internally consistent. The law of noncontradiction as such is only a test for falsity, not a test for truth. That is, a view is wrong if it is contradictory to itself, but it is not automatically true if it is noncontradictory or consistent with itself. There is no way by logic alone to prove that all views except one are contradictory, thus forcing one to adopt as true the only remaining view. Every major world view is or can be consistent with its own basic axioms or presuppositions.

Spinoza deduced pantheism logically from his axioms and Descartes deduced theism logically from his axioms. But how are we on the basis of reason alone to choose between the two competing sets of axioms? Other rationalists accept revelation as their basic axiom. But how do we know which alleged revelation to accept?

Even revelational rationalists admit that one would have to be omniscient in order to definitively and finally apply the consistency test for truth, for he would have to know all the facts and relationships about all the truth systems in question in order to know which of them is ultimately consistent and which are ultimately contradictory. But since this is impossible in practice, the rational test for truth via noncontradictoriness is inadequate to establish the truth of one view over another.

Fideism Is Insufficient.5 As was seen earlier, fideism is not really a test for truth at all, it is simply a claim for truth. It reduces to the claim “this is true because I believe it to be true.” But contrary beliefs are possible. Hence simply believing a position is an inadequate basis for contending it is true vis-à-vis other views. Any appeal to some ground for belief other than the belief itself is, strictly speaking, not fideism. For instance, if someone believes Christianity to be true rather than Islam because it is more consistent or livable, then he has imported a rational or pragmatic test for truth to support his belief.

In this case he is fideistic in his claim but rational or pragmatic in his testfor truth. But we are only discussing fideism as an inadequate test for truth. In fact, the frequent recourse of fideists to other means of justifying their beliefs tends to verify its inadequacy as a test for truth. Beliefs alone are not self-justifying; they are only claims that call for confirmation outside themselves. Credo ad absurdum may be admirable to some but it is justifiable to no one.

Experientialism Is Inadequate.6 As a test for truth, experientialism does not eliminate the possibility of other views being true. Experience is not self-justifying; it is not even self-interpreting. Experience is what persons have, while truth is what is affirmed about these experiences. Truth is prepositional; it is an expression about experience. Whether or not the expression about experience is adequate cannot be determined by the experience alone; for the experience apart from the expression is like content without form, or “stuff” without structure.

Events and experience can be structured and expressed in different ways. The most adequate or true structure or model cannot be determined by the experience itself, any more than Jello can by itself determine which mold should form it into which shape. Differing models or world views refer to the same core of human experience as the basis of their opposing metaphysical views.

Hence, theism cannot be established over pantheism on experience alone since both theists and pantheists have the same human conditions beneath their opposing systems. In a word, whatever is common to many cannot be used as uniquely supportive of only one.

The appeal to special experiences (mystical or whatever) will not aid any one world view’s claim over another because all can claim to have special experiences. Furthermore, if the experience is truly unique to one view and unavailable to another, then there is no way to use it as a truth support for one view as opposed to the others because it is private to that view.

In other words, what is not available to them cannot be used against them. A world view has a right to face its accusers and to view the evidence of their accusations; private experience cannot be a legitimate part of a public test for truth. Any test for truth competing for the minds of men in general is a public test for truth. The tests for truth claimed by world views are definitely of this variety.

Evidentialism Is Insufficient.7 It was concluded earlier that evidentialism, like experientialism, is insufficient for testing a world view because no facts are self-interpreting. All facts are interpreted by the context in which they appear and ultimately by the world view or ultimate context in which they appear. But if the facts gain their meaning and truth by the context, then they cannot be used to determine the truth of the context. This would be viciously circular.

For instance, one cannot argue that the resuscitation of Jesus of Nazareth’s body—granting that it did resuscitate—is an act of God (miracle) that proves Christian theism to be true. For only if this is already a theistic universe to begin with can one even interpret this event to be a miraculous resurrection or act of God. If to interpret an event as a resurrection or act of God already presupposes God’s existence, then an event so interpreted cannot be used as a proof of God’s existence.

If the model gives the fact its meaning and truth values, then the fact cannot in turn be used to give the model its meaning and truth. Indeed, there are many models capable of handling all the facts of experience. Naturalism can handle bodily resuscitation as an unusual natural event with no known cause. Pantheism can explain it as a concentrated manifestation of God who is manifest in everything. In like manner other views can handle all the facts by their macro or metaphysical models.

The question is not one of bare facts but of the interpretation given the facts by divergent world views or models. There is no way to use the bare facts alone in order to justify one model of them over another. Indeed, there is probably no way to know the facts apart from the model or framework through which they are understood, for the very fact known involves the relationships or context in which it is known. Facts are not islands unto themselves; they are known in relationships or gestalts.

And even if pure and isolatable facticity were knowable apart from contexts, it would be useless as a test for truth, for pure facticity or a bare fact as such has no truth value. It is neutral and cannot be given context or meaning—and hence truth value—by different models. Hence, bare facts as such cannot establish the truth of a model, and facts, as interpreted by a model, cannot be used to establish the truth of the model which provides the justification for interpreting the facts in that particular way.

Combinationalism Is Insufficient.8 The combinational test for truth is sometimes known as systematic consistency. It involves a combination of two or more of the foregoing tests for truth. Often it entails three tests: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance. Whatever the form, Combinationalism is insufficient as a test for the truth of a world view because it does not eliminate the possibility of other views being true. For pantheism is as consistent to its premises, as adequate in explaining all the facts, and as relevant to the experience of a Hindu as Christianity is to a Christian.

If one desires the cessation of craving and frustration, then pantheism provides a systematically coherent world view. Of course, if one desires ultimate fulfillment and individual satisfaction, then Christian theism would be more systematically coherent. But there is the rub. How is one to judge which desire is right or which is the desire for truth? Neither view has the right to merely assume its goal to be the true one, for this merely begs the question. Neither view can eliminate the other on the basis of systematic consistency, for both have this feature in their sophisticated forms.

How then is truth to be adjudicated by a purely combinational test? In the final analysis combinationalism is not a new or different test for truth; it is simply a combination of other inadequate tests for truth. If rationalism alone or evidentialism alone or experientialism alone will not suffice, then how is combining their inadequacies going to do the job? Two more leaky buckets will not in the end hold any more water than one leaky bucket. Combinationalism does not patch the hole in any one of the tests for truth by adding others. The patches are just as porous as the pail.

Adding up inadequate tests for truth, without correcting the inherent inadequacies, does not equal an adequate test for truth. Indeed, combinationalism is at best only a test for falsity of some views but not a test for the truth of one world view. For more than one world view may fit all the tests of combinationalism.

Pragmatism Is Insufficient.9 The pragmatic test for the truth of a world view is not capable of eliminating opposing world views either. What works for one individual might not for another. Pantheism works for the pantheist and naturalism for the naturalist in accord with their different models. On purely pragmatic grounds we might conclude that both theism and pantheism are true, since they seem to work for adherents of each world view in accordance with their aspirations. But both cannot be true because they are mutually exclusive ways of viewing ultimate reality. Hence, pragmatism does not prove which view is true but merely which view seems to work for a person with his desires or starting premises.

Further, how can we know which system will work best for most men in the long run? One would have to be God in order to know enough to establish the truth of one system. At best, finite man may guess at the long-range results and “will to believe” whichever system tempts him on existential grounds. But this is no longer a pragmatic ground but a fideistic or experiential one, and as such it is subject to the criticisms of these views already given. In short, pragmatism is not capable of establishing one view as true over another.

At best pragmatism manifests the application but not the justification of a world view. It indicates whether a view about reality really works when applied to life. But workability and truth are not identical. Some things work very well but are not right (e.g., cheating). Other things do not seem to work as well in the short run, and we cannot determine the long run (e.g., honesty). Finally, the results of a belief or view may be unrelated to its rightness or truth. Winning in the lottery does not prove the winner was right for playing any more than losing proves the others were wrong for playing.

Likewise, my child’s disobedience to a misstated command does not make either my statement truly what I desired nor his disobedience right, even though the results were what I really desired. Pragmatism is not a sufficient test for the truth of anything, to say nothing of the test of the truth of world views.

Setting Forth an Adequate Test for Truth

If the foregoing tests for truth were exhaustive, the epistemological consequences would be disastrous. If no test for truth is sufficient, then truth cannot be established and tested; and if truth cannot be established, then the Christian apologist is out of business. Fortunately, this is not the case, for there is light at the other end of the tunnel.

There is a test for truth that meets the standards of adequacy, that is, it can establish one view over against opposing views. We propose that undeniability is the test for the truth of a world view and unaffirmabilityis the test for the falsity of a world view.

Unaffirmability as a Test for Falsity

Unaffirmability as a Test for Falsity
Unaffirmability as a Test for Falsity

First let us examine what is meant by the unaffirmability of a position. Unaffirmability does not mean that a view is unsayable or unstatable. Even complete nonsense can be said or stated. For example, one can state that there are square triangles even though the statement has no meaning. One can state: “the sound of the music is the color red” but this too is nonsense. The ability to state “I cannot express myself in words” is one thing, but the ability to meaningfully affirm this is another.

In this case the statement is self-defeating, since it is an expression in words claiming that no expression in words can be so made. From these illustrations we wish to draw two conclusions. First, not everything sayable is meaningful; nonsense is sayable or statable. Second, some sayable things are unaffirmable. For example, one cannot affirm that he lacks the ability to affirm anything. Also one cannot affirm his own nonexistence. In both cases what he affirms is denied in the very process or act of affirmation. This leads to a further distinction, namely, that which is directly unaffirmable and that which is indirectly unaffirmable.

The Direct Unaffirmability of Something. Direct unaffirmability occurs when the statement itself provides the information to defeat itself. The statement “I cannot express myself in words” is an example of this.10 The statement is itself an expression in words. One need not look further to know it is false. It directly destroys itself. The datum uttered is self-annihilating of the thought expressed by that datum. Another example is “I cannot think,” for that involves thought directly in order to even think it. This kind is obvious, but it is not the only kind of an unaffirmable self-defeating statement.

The Indirectly Unaffirmable. The directly unaffirmable means that the very act of thinking or expressing something is self-defeating. The act of thinking by which one thinks that he cannot think is not meaningfully thinkable, and the very act of speaking by which one says that he cannot speak is really unspeakable in a meaningful way (it is sayablein a meaningless way).

But what about statements like “I came to the conclusion that I know everything intuitively”? The statement itself does not provide the data for its own self-destruction. The very act of thinking this conclusion does not self-destruct. So it is not directly self-stultifying in the same sense as the other examples.

However, there is another sense in which the statement “I came to the conclusion that I know everything intuitively” is unaffirmably self-defeating; it is indirectly self-defeating, for the very process of “coming to” that conclusion was a deductive or inferential one, and that very process is at odds with the statement that all knowledge is possessed intuitively without deduction or inference. Hence, although the act of expressing the statement is not inconsistent, the process by which the statement was derived contradicts the thought expressed in the statement.

Another example of an indirectly self-defeating assertion is agnosticism. To say “I know that one cannot know anything about reality” implies that he does. However, the statement itself does not appear to undercut itself directly. That is, there do not appear to be sufficient data in the statement to destroy what it intends to express.

However, if the statement were true as proposed there would be no way for the person to make the statement. In short, there is no basis for making the statement unless the statement is false, for how could the agnostic make that statement about reality unless he really did know something about reality? Here then is a second kind of indirectly unaffirmable statement, namely, one for the affirmation of which there is no basis. Any statement which negates the only basis on which it can make its affirmation (or denial) is indirectly self-defeating.

Our purpose here is not to make a comprehensive typology of kinds of self-defeating statements but merely to point out some varieties sufficient to illustrate the test for truth via self-destruction whether in the act, process, or basis for making the statement. The following chapters will indicate just how this will be applied in practice to various claimants of truth.


Undeniability as a Test for Truth

Undeniability as a Test for Truth
Undeniability as a Test for Truth

What is unaffirmably self-defeating is false. And, conversely, what is undeniable is true; this would follow logically. But one might ask if there is anything in actual practice that is undeniable. And if there is, is it anything more than the purely definitional? Let us call these two kinds of undeniability existential (relating to existence or reality) and theoretical or definitional (relating to possible realities).

Definitional Undeniability. The affirmation “triangles must have three sides” is undeniably true. But this does not mean that there is in fact any such thing as a triangle. It means only that if there were a triangle it would in fact have three sides. Or, there is no other meaningful way to define a triangle than as a three-sided figure for that is what we mean by triangularity.

Likewise, one might claim, as many Christians do, that if there is a God he must be a necessary Being. This would not necessarily imply that there is known to be a God, but that if one exists, then he could not have come into being or cease to be but must necessarily always be. In brief, there is a definitional necessity in conceiving of God. And if one were actually found to exist, then this would actually be as true of him as triangularity would be true of an actual triangle. Both would be undeniably true definitionally, even if neither God nor triangles exist actually. Many other examples could be multiplied.

A few will suffice to further illustrate definitional undeniability: all wives are married, all circles are round, the whole is always more than any one part, and so on.

All of these, it may be charged, are purely mathematical or theoretical. As such they are empty tautologies, and no tautology or definitional statement tells us anything about the real world. Are there any actually undeniable statements about existence?

Existential Undeniability. An affirmative answer is demanded to the foregoing question. Existence, at least my existence, is actually undeniable. I must exist in order to make the denial. Nonexistents do not affirm or deny; they are not and they speak not. Whenever I attempt to deny my existence, I catch myself existing in the process of making the denial. So at least something is actually undeniable, namely, my own existence.

As was noted earlier, the rationalist makes recourse to this argument to support rationalism. But since the argument does not show logical necessity but only actual undeniability, he has left purely rational ground for existential ground when he makes this move. My nonexistence is logically possible; it is not inconceivable that I exist not. No logical necessity is grounding my existence.

Even if I cannot affirm that I do not exist, I can nonetheless meaningfully think that I mightnot exist. Of course, I must exist in order to conceive of my nonexistence. But the “must exist” does not mean “logically must” but only “actually must.” For unless I actually exist I cannot conceive of anything, for there is no “I” or “me” there at all. But this does not mean that my existence in the first place is based on logical necessity.

Whether or not one can justify the affirmation that anything exists necessarily is a question we leave for later. It will suffice here to show that the proposition “no statement that is true by definitional necessity can also be true about reality” fails. The fact that squares must be defined as four-sided figures does not mean that one cannot exist. Furthermore, the attempt to affirm that no necessary statements can be made about reality is itself a necessary statement about reality and is, on that grounds, self-defeating.

To offer as a necessary truth about reality that there are no necessary truths about reality is self-destructive. If one has no necessary basis for saying that there are no necessary statements about reality, then it is possible that there are some; the possibility cannot be eliminated in advance. Existential truth cannot be legislated; it must be looked for in experience. What this search uncovers and whether it is undeniable will be discussed later. At present the door is open for the possibility of some undeniable truth about ultimate reality. All attempts to lock the door turn out to be self-defeating.

In summation, whatever is undeniable is true, whether it is definitionally undeniable or existentially undeniable. If something definitionally undeniable is also found to be actually undeniable, then whatever is definitionally necessary to attribute to it, that it must necessarily actually have. That is, if we actually find a triangle, then it must actually have three sides. And, likewise, if a God is actually found to exist, then he must actually have all the characteristics that God must necessarily be conceived to have, such as eternity, immutability, and so forth.

Of course, there is no way to show in advance that theism is actually undeniable and all nontheisms are unaffirmable. All we can say at present is that if one view is undeniable, then conversely the other opposing views must be at least untrue, if not unaffirmable. And if any view can be found to be unaffirmable, then it is, ipso facto, untrue. As a work on Christian apologetics, this book will show that all non-theistic world views are directly or indirectly unaffirmable and only theism is affirmable and, hence, only theism is true.11

Further, we believe not only that theism is the only affirmable worldview but that it is undeniably true.12 In short, nontheisms are sayable but not meaningfully affirmable; they are utterable but not justifiable. Whether or not our project is successful cannot be determined here; we must wait until after it is expounded.

The Justification of Truth Statements Within a World View

Establishing the truth of a world view is a special problem and demands a specific test for truth. We have concluded that the traditional tests for truth will not suffice because they are inadequate to judge between world views. More than one world view may be true on the grounds of rationalism, experientialism, evidentialism, and so forth.

However, unaffirmability can falsify a world view and undeniability can verify a world view. Supposing this to be the case when judging between world views, we now come to the problem of determining what is true within a given world view. It is here that combinationalism or systematic coherence seems to be the most adequate test for truth for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is difficult to find undeniability in historical and experiential matters.

The Reasons for Adopting Systematic Consistency

Once an overall framework has been determined, then it follows that whatever most consistently and comprehensively fits into that system is true. If that system of truth is not only a world view but a world and life view, then the applicability of that truth to life also becomes a crucial aspect of that truth. Several arguments support this contention.

First of all, the grounds for rejecting systematic consistency (or combinationalism) as a test between world views do not apply to using it as a test for truth within a given system or world view. The main arguments against it as a test for a world view are based on the fact that more than one system might be equally systematically consistent and that the facts within a system are given meaning by that system. But once the system and therefore the ultimate meaning of all facts within it are determined, then these facts should not be interpreted in ways contrary to the system.

And once it is determined that no other system is true, then there is no external competing way to interpret these facts. Within a given system consistency of interpretation and comprehensive coverage of all facts are definitive. Error arises when the interpretation is either internally inconsistent or else not factually all-inclusive. For instance, if this is a theistic universe and one refuses to accept the possibility of an empirical event indicating a miracle, then he is inconsistent.

In a theistic universe miracles can happen and a given event (e.g., the resurrection of Christ) might just be a miracle. It is inconsistent with the system to rule it out. Further, if this is a theistic universe and one fails to take into account all the facts, then he might be led to accept Judaism rather than Christianity. Suppose it is a fact that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled Old Testament prophecy to be the Jewish Messiah.

If so, only by overlooking (or negating or not counting) these facts can one who desires truth remain in Judaism rather than acknowledge the truth of Christianity. In short, all the facts interpreted in an internally consistent way are a sufficient test for truth within a given metaphysical system.

Second, once a system of truth is established, it follows logically that whatever is consistent with that system is true and whatever is not consistent with it is not true. Systematic consistency follows from the establishment of a system of truth. Or, to state it another way, once a macromodel is established for interpreting all the experiences and occurrences in the world, then the most consistent and comprehensive way the micromodels are fitted into it is the indication of truth.

Systematic consistency is inadequate to test between divergent systems since they all may be systematically consistent within themselves. But, on the other hand, systematic consistency is eminently qualified to test for truth within a system; that is what the system is all about. Anything not systematically related cannot be a truth within that system. Likewise, any fact unaccounted for in a system that claims to account for all facts stands against the truth of that system. A world view model must be both consistent and comprehensive. Whatever best fits within its overall interpretive framework is to be taken as true, and whatever does not fit is to be taken as false.

The Probability of the Systematic Coherence Test for Truth

It must be admitted that systematic consistency does not provide an apodictic or undeniable test for truth. No finite mind is in actual possession of all the facts. Nor is any finite person able to comprehend completely all the relationships between facts. As in almost everything else in life, probability is the guide. Whichever view best fits and is most consistent must suffice. Of course, the major apologetic problems of defending Christianity are resolved when one establishes the metaphysical view within which the facts are to be interpreted. If theism can be established undeniably as the model, then pantheism, naturalism, and panentheism are thereby eliminated.

This will be the aim of Part Two of this book. The remaining choices are among competing theisms, as Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The adjudication of truth claims among these then will not be a purely philosophical enterprise. Here the probability of historical and evidential arguments will be decisive. If Christianity best explains all the known facts in the most consistent way, then it should be accepted as truth. Part Three of this book will be an attempt to argue that this is indeed the case.

Summary and Conclusion

The first seven chapters attempted to show that skepticism and agnosticism are self-defeating and the major traditional methods are inadequate to test the truth of a world view. Another test was offered in this chapter, namely, actual undeniability. If we can establish that all nontheistic views engage in unaffirmable statements germane to those views, then we can reject them as false. If we can show that theism is the only affirmable view or that it is undeniable, then it will be established as true.

Once this is established to be a theistic universe, then whichever form of theism can be demonstrated to best explain all known facts in the most consistent way will be the true theistic view. It is the contention of this work (in Part Three) that evangelical Christian theism qualifies as the most systematically coherent theistic view on all three tests: consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance.


  • Ayer, A. J. Problems of Knowledge.
  • Boyle, Joseph, et al. “Determinis, Freedom, and Self-Referential Arguments,” Review of Metaphysics (Sept. 1972).
  • Grisez, Germain. Beyond the New Theism.
  • Hall, Evert. Philosophical Systems.
  • Johnstone, Henry. Philosophical Arguments.
  • Passmore, John. Philosophical Reasoning.
  • Yandell, Keith. “Metaphysical Systems and Decision Procedures” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Ohio State University, 1966).



1 See chap. 1 for further discussion on this point.

2 See chap. 1.

3 See Arthur Holmes, Faith Seeks Understanding, pp. 46 f.

4 See chap. 2 for further elaboration of this point.

5 This point is discussed in more detail in chap. 3.

6 For further information see chap. 4.

7 Chap. 5 treats this at greater length.

8 A more complete analysis is given in chap. 7.

9 Pragmatism is expounded and critiqued in chap. 6.

10 See chap. 1.

11 See chaps. 9–12.

12 See chap. 13.

[1]Geisler, N. L. (1976). Christian apologetics. Includes index. (133). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Formulating Adequate Tests For Truth

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