A Serious Problem for Mormonism.

“If we assert that a self-contradiction is true, then we are rejecting a principle upon which the possibility of any assertion at all rests: the principle, namely, that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same manner; and if this principle is false, no knowledge is possible—not even the knowledge that a self-contradiction is true.”
— Stuart Hackett1

One of the strongest refutations that someone can present in an argument against a particular view is to demonstrate that that view violates the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction goes back to Aristotle himself in the book Metaphysics IV: “It is impossible for the same thing to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect.”2

Let’s look at an example proposition:

Socrates was a man.

Here we have ascribed manhood to the individual Socrates. And if we negate this property, we get:

Socrates was NOT a man.

This is precisely what Socrates said was impossible. Socrates cannot both be a man and not be a man at the same time and in the same respect; the statements cannot both be true.

Without going into much more detail on this particular topic of logic, suffice it to say that if an argument is presented showing a particular view violates the law of contradiction, that view is in serious trouble.

Let’s move on to the point of this post.

Joseph Smith was the founder of the religion of Mormonism (wiki). And as a founder of a major religion, and as a proclaimed prophet of God by his followers, he had a few things to say about God. In his “inspired” translation (done in the 1820’s) of golden, hieroglyphic plates, he made a very specific claim about God. Here is that claim:

“For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.” — Moroni 8:18 (screenshot)

We can summarize this passage simply:
God does NOT change. (¬P)3

On April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith gave a sermon entitled “The King Follet Discourse.” In this particular sermon, which according to the Mormon church is a classic (screenshot) in Mormon church literature, he said made a statement that is the exact opposite of what he translated in the Book of Mormon. Here is that statement:

“We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see … He was once a man like us;”
King Follet Discourse (screenshot)

In this particular segment, we can observe two things:

1. Joseph Smith wants to refute the idea that God was God from all eternity.
2. God was once a man like us.

It should strike the reader (or the follower of Mormonism) as a bit odd that Smith wants to refute the very idea that he translated (supposedly) from the golden plates into the book of Mormon.

Additionally, we can see that when Smith says that God was once a man like us, God must have changed. We can summarize #2 as this: God does change (P).

So, in the book of Mormon and in a sermon stated to be a classic in Mormon church literature, we have explicitly conflicting statements.

God does NOT change. (¬P)
God does change. (P)

One of these statements is false, or they could both be false (Joseph Smith’s God might not exist), but they cannot both be true.

On such a basic doctrine of the nature of God, it’s hard to see how Smith could have made such a mistake. Either way, one of the statements is true and one of them is false. Which one is it? And what are the implications on the falsity of either statement? Furthermore, how could a “prophet” of God make such basic, contradictory claims on the very nature of God?

You Can’t Prove a Negative!

Or can you?

Steven Hales, professor of Philosophy at Bloomsburg University has some interesting things to say on the topic:

“A real, actual law of logic is a negative, namely the law of non-contradiction. This law states that that a proposition cannot be both true and not true. Nothing is both true and false. Furthermore, you can prove this law. It can be formally derived from the empty set using provably valid rules of inference.” (Italics in original)

Any claim can be expressed as a negative, thanks to the rule of double negation. This rule states that any proposition P is logically equivalent to not-not-P. … Think you can prove your own existence? At least to your own satisfaction? Then, using the exact same reasoning, plus the little step of double negation, you can prove that you aren’t nonexistent. Congratulations, you’ve just proven a negative. The beautiful part is that you can do this trick with absolutely any proposition whatsoever. Prove P is true and you can prove that P is not false.” (Italics in original)

Dr. Hales also makes a nice distinction between deductive arguments and inductive arguments as it relates to negative claims, which might be the basis for the idea that some think a negative can not be proven.
https://departments.bloomu.edu/philosophy/pages/content/hales/articlepdf/proveanegative.pdf

Here is another philosopher, Dr. Craig, discussing the topic with a member of the audience in a debate with Dr. John Shook:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52XsW6jD4eg

Another philosopher, Dr. Stephen Law, shares an interesting observation, “Notice, for a start, that ‘You cannot prove a negative’ is itself a negative.”
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/believing-bull/201109/you-can-prove-negative

A law of logic, double negation, and a self-reference problem for the statement itself … it sure looks like a negative can be proven.