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Calvin and Calvinism » Negative Inference Fallacy

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D.A. Carson on the Fallacy of the Negative Inference

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


5. Negative inferences

As we have just seen, one form of improper syllogism is the negative inference, but this form is so common that it deserves separate notice and more lavish illustration. It does not necessarily follow that if a proposition is true, a negative inference from that proposition is also true. The negative inference may be true, but this cannot be assumed, and in any case is never true because it is a negative inference. This can easily be presented in syllogistic form.

Consider two examples:

All orthodox Jews believe in Moses.
Mr. Smith is not an orthodox Jew.
Therefore Mr. Smith does not believe in Moses.

This clearly does not hold up, because the conclusion depends on a negative inference from the major premise. Mr. Smith may be an unorthodox Jew who believes in Moses; or he may be a Gentile who believes in Moses.

Try a second example:

All who have faith in Jesus are saved.
Mr. Jones does not have faith in Jesus.
Therefore Mr. Jones is not saved.

From the perspective of New Testament theology, the conclusion is true; but the syllogism is invalid. In other words, this is an improper way of reaching a true conclusion. If the major premise read "Only those who have faith in Jesus are saved" instead of "All who have faith in Jesus are saved," then of course the new syllogism would constitute a valid argument.

In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul writes: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-unless, of course, you fail the test?”(NIV). Calvin understands Paul to be saying “that all are reprobates, who doubt whether they profess Christ and are a part of His body"26–an interpretation which, as C. K. Barrett observes, "can hardly be said to follow."27 Calvin seems to be arguing as follows:

Those who have confidence Christ is in them are saved.
Some Corinthians and others doubt (i.e., they do not have this confidence).
Therefore those Corinthians and others are reprobates.

Now I do not believe that the major premise rightly interprets the text in any case; but even if we grant that it represents what Paul is saying, the conclusion does not follow because it is a negative inference. It reflects the Reformer’s position that saving faith entails assurance of salvation; but it is not obvious that Paul is trying to make that point.

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This leads us to a consideration of the relationship between universal divine love and the atonement of Christ. If God’s love in giving Christ is universal, is the atonement universal? Or is it limited? Before answering this question we must carefully understand the terms which it uses and the alternative which is poses.

Just what is the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement? As far as the average reader of this journal is concerned, the definition of Louis Berkhof may be considered representative. We quote from his Systematic Theology: "The question with which we are concerned at this point is not (a) whether the satisfaction rendered by Christ was in itself sufficient for the salvation of all men . . . (b) whether the saving benefits are actually applied to all men . . . (c) whether the bona fide offer of salvation is made to all that hear the gospel . . . nor (d) whether an of the fruits of the death of Christ accrue to the benefit of the non-elect. . . . On the other hand, the question does relate to the design of the atonement. Did the Father in sending Christ, and did Christ in coming into the world to make atonement for sin, do with the design or for the purpose of saving only the elect or all men? That is the question, and that only is the question. . . . If it had been His intention to save all men, this purpose could not have been frustrated by the unbelief of man" (pp. 393-395).

In order to evaluate Berkhof’s position, let us first consider the Biblical evidence which he cites. We quote his own statement: "Scripture repeatedly qualifies those for whom Christ laid down His life in such a way as to point to a very definite limitation. Those for whom He suffered and died are variously called ‘His sheep,’ John 10:11, 15, ‘His Church,’ Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25-27, ‘His people,’ Matt. 1:21, and ‘the elect,’ Rom. 8:32-35" (p. 395). These passages do not adequately support Berkhof’s argument. In none of them is the predication regarding those for whom Christ died stated exhaustively or exclusively. They do affirm that Christ died for His shed, His Church, His people or the elect, but about the possibility that He may also have died for others these passages say nothing. Moreover, if the predications made are to be taken as limitations, consistent interpretation of similar passages results in absurdity. Then, for instance, Isaiah 58:8 teaches that Christ died only for Israel and Galatians 2:20 that He died only for Paul. It would appear that the passages used by Berkhof as proof of his position really beg the question. They are relevant to his argument only when they are first interpreted in the light of the doctrine which they are used to prove.

Scriptural evidence used by Berkhof is further brought into question by the fact that Scripture speaks also of the death of Christ as being "for every man" (Heb. 2:9), "for the whole world" (1 John 2:2), for "many" (Matt. 20:28) and "for all" (1 Tim. 2:6). To say the least, the proof texts used by Berkhof must be interpreted in connection with the foregoing. It may also be suggested that the Bible speak of the design or purpose of the atonement in differing senses, which we elucidate further below.

Harold Dekker, “God So Loved–All men!” Reformed Journal 12 (December 1962), 6.

No credit to Tony for the find.


W.G. Samson on the Invalid Use of the Negative Inference

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


They are right, then, who place stress on these declarations; for they are statements of fact. They certainly err who, from these and such like statements, infer that Christ’s Atonement has efficacy only for the redeemed. These are strong statements, indeed: “Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it” ( Eph. v. 25); ” He loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. ii. 20); but they are not statements which exclude an efficacy that, reaches another end in another class. There are other declarations that assert a positive efficacy, though not a redeeming power, over others than the redeemed. Such are the declarations of Christ and of Paul and of John to this effect. Christ declares (Matt. xx. 28), “The Son of Man came . . to give his life a ransom for many,” which the Apostle Paul makes synonymous with the declaration (I. Tim. ii. 6), “He gave himself a ransom for all.” Again Paul (Heb. ii. 9), “We see Jesus, made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.” Yet again, John (I. John ii. 2), “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world;” in which expression the word rendered “world” is, in the Greek, Kosmos,”  or universe. It is impossible to suppose that Paul and John used, without special design, these expressions of an influence exerted by Christ’s Atonement which reaches beyond the redeemed. They are right, indeed, who seek, in the connection of the statements just quoted for proofs that the redemption secured by the Atonement is limited to those who accept it; and yet the form of language chosen by the inspired writers is not by this qualification of the context made of no account in the writer’s design.

G.W. Samson, “The Atonement,” in Baptist Doctrines, ed., Charles A. Jenkens, reprint. (Wisconsin: Baptist Heritage Press, 1989), 497-498. [Italics orginal, underlining mine.]


Dabney: A Sharp Lesson on the Negative Inference fallacy

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


In proof of the general correctness of this theory of the extent of the Atonement, we should attach but partial force to some of the arguments advanced by Symington and others, or even by Turrettin, e.g., That Christ says, He died “for His sheep,” for “His Church,” for “His friends,” is not of itself conclusive. The proof of a proposition does not disprove its converse. All the force which we could properly attach to this class of passages is the probability arising from the frequent and emphatic repetition of this affirmative statement as to a definite object.

Dabney, Lectures, p., 521.