The Arrogance of the “Impossibility of the Contrary”

A lot of people have problems with the “impossibility of the contrary” claim often made as part and parcel of the covenantal or presuppositional apologetic method. A lot of people. And they have problems with it for very different reasons. I will address only two of them here.

The first is exclusivity. To say that anything contrary to some given position is impossible is to make a very bold claim to exclusivity. I am not going to enter into the various senses in which the covenantal apologist might be using the term “impossibility” here. But it will suffice to point out that whatever else it means, it at least means that Christianityactually makes sense whereas other positions that are opposed to it do not. And it is here we find our first qualm with the impossibility of the contrary claim to be a bit misguided.

What I mean is that virtually every position, Christian or not, takes an exclusive approach to other systems of thought. No, not everyone wants to say that other positions are impossible, though some do want to say exactly that. Rather, everyone does appear to want to claim exclusivity of some sort with respect to their own views. It is a view that is in question. It is a position. Adherence to any particular position necessarily precludes adherence to opposing views. That is the nature of the beast.

One will generally hold that his or her own position actually makes sense whereas other positions that are opposed to it do not. Or, one will at least hold that his or her own position actually makes the best sense of all of the other available positions examined thus far. Sure, there is nothing like certainty in view here, but neither is any position truly inclusive. Suppose that a Hindu states that all religions are true. Suppose that a Christian states that only Christianity is true. The Hindu’s claim attempts to include the Christian’s claim in its religious position, but in doing so also excludes the Christian’s claim since the Christian’s claim is, well, exclusivistic and contradictory to what the Hindu wants to claim.

So the exclusive nature of the impossibility of the contrary cannot be the basis for its rejection. Everyone is subject to some degree of exclusivism. It is really not so controversial to claim that if X is true, then not-X is false.

The second problem with the impossibility of the contrary claim to be addressed in this post is with the attempt to provide justification for the aforementioned exclusivity. But here again, human beings in virtue of behaving like human beings will seek to justify why they hold the positions that they do as opposed to other competing views. And this process of justification will involve appeals to positive argumentative data that supports a particular position and negative argumentative data that discredits opposing positions.

People generally adhere to the views they do because in some sense they believe the positions to be coherent, to correspond to reality, and to be livable. But they do not think that other positions satisfy these conditions. For example, the atheist might think that the empirical data supports his or her position, while rejecting theism upon the basis of perceived logical contradictions within the concept of God. The covenantal apologist is not doing anything tricky in pointing out the positive argumentative data that supports his or her position while also bringing negative argumentative data involving logical incoherence, evidential difficulties, and impracticality to bear upon the views of unbelievers. Everyone engages in this type of thought. It is nothing new or special.

So much for these two objections to the impossibility of the contrary claim of covenantal apologists. They are easily rebutted by noting that the objections cut every which a way. There is nothing particularly daunting about the objections for the covenantal apologist because the concept of the impossibility of the contrary is shared in some form or fashion by every viewpoint, whether Christian or not.

It turns out that the impossibility of the contrary has little or nothing to do with arrogance.


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