“What is truth?”This question was asked by a man named Pilate about two thousand years ago. Two thousand years later, this question is still being asked by many, even by many within the Church. Why? Because TRUTH itself has once again come under attack, to the extent that, all who have adopted the various false philosophies about truth being propagated in our growing liberal society today, now deny the very existence of absolute truth. Not only have they adopted for themselves these philosophies, but they propagate them, and in fact, they have been quite successful in doing so. National polls show that an incredibly large number of freshmen college students, Christian students included, when surveyed, state that they don’t believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth.
Why bother with this discussion? Does it really matter whether there is or isn’t such a thing as absolute truth?It does, because truth is foundational for the survival of society itself. If we allow ourselves to be convinced that absolute truth doesn’t exist and start living out that belief, we ourselves will be to blame for the collapse of society and history will once again show the error of our ways.
In this chapter, among other things, we will define what truth is and discuss some of the erroneous views of truth that are held and propagated in the world today, and how truth can be known.
Geisler states, “Truth is an expression, symbol, or statement that matches or corresponds to its object or referent (i.e., that to which it refers, whether it is an abstract idea or a concrete thing).”
Nash states, “Truth is a property of propositions that correspond to the way things are…Truth…is objective, that is, is independent of human preference and desire. Our feelings cannot alter or change truth.”
Truth is that which corresponds or relates to reality as it actually is. If a statement anybody makes matches the facts and the evidence, then it equals truth. On the other hand, if a statement anybody makes does not match the facts and evidence, then it equals that which is false or a lie.
If I said that the Carolina Panthers beat the New England Patriots and won the Super Bowl in 2003; that would be a lie, because the facts and the evidence would disprove my statement. Now, the fact that I wanted them to win and feel they should have won doesn’t change the fact that they lost. Instead, if I state that the Carolina Panthers made it to the Super Bowl in 2003 and gave the New England Patriots a run for their money; that would be true, for the facts and the evidence would demonstrate that. The latter statement corresponds and matches to the way things are, it relates to reality.
Exploring the False Philosophies about Truth
Agnosticism claims that neither truth nor God can be known. They don’t necessarily deny that either exists, they only deny that either can be known. There are several problems with this philosophy about truth:
(1) It is a self-destructive argument. One who holds to this philosophy fails to realize that he already possesses some knowledge about truth and God, i.e. that God and/or truth can’t be known. If agnostics are right, they would not be able to make such a statement because it contains knowledge about God. If we cannot know God, then how is it that we know we cannot know God since knowledge about God is implied in such a statement? Clearly, we would have to know something about God to know that He is unknowable.
(2) “Truth cannot be known by man,” is that a truth statement? In other words, if I am an agnostic and I believe I can’t know truth, then how do I know that what I am saying and what I believe (agnosticism) is true? Ironically, agnostics claim truth cannot be known by using truth statements.
(3) “Neither truth nor God can be known” is a negative statement. As Geisler states, “Remember, every negative statement presupposes positive knowledge.”By making a negative statement about truth or God, the agnostic presupposes truth about both God and truth. For example, if I tell you that your car is not blue, by making a negative statement about the color of the car, it is presupposed that I actually do have a positive knowledge about the actual color of the car. If I didn’t, then why would I make the negative statement in the first place?
Moreland writes, “Scientism is the view that science is the only paradigm of truth and rationality. If something does not square with currently well-established scientific beliefs, if it is not within the domain of things appropriate for scientific investigation, or if it is not amenable to scientific methodology, then it is not true or rational. Everything outside of science is a matter of mere belief and subjective opinion, of which rational assessment is impossible. Science, exclusively and ideally, is our model of intellectual excellence.”
Scientism holds that the most authoritative and valuable area, in terms of human learning, is science. There are also those within scientism who go as far as to say that there is no truth apart from scientific truth. As far as scientism is concerned, any other intellectual activities are considered and regarded as inferior to science. Nothing should be regarded as true, in fact, it should be regarded as irrational, if science cannot verify it or at least shed some light on it. There are a few problems with scientism:
(1) Scientism refutes itself. Scientism claims that only scientific propositions are true and rational. The curious thing is that it uses a philosophical argument to make its claims, rather than verified scientific propositions. So nothing is true unless science can verify it except the philosophical non-scientific statements they make. How ludicrous! Scientism’s (a non-verified and non-verifiable for that matter) claim is true, but no other such claim is. How can scientism be true when it uses a self-refuting proposition to make its case?
(2) Scientism is no friend of science but rather its foe because the very task of stating and defending the very propositions for science, as stated previously, are philosophical ones. In other words, “neither the propositions themselves nor their defense are a scientific matter”. Scientism states that only its claims are true and rational (a philosophical proposition) yet such claims are not proven scientifically. Their whole argument rests on philosophical propositions rather than on scientific proof, therefore, science itself is undermined by the very arguments of scientism.
(3) If there is no truth outside of scientific truth, how then do we reconcile the fact that there is the existence of true and rationally justified beliefs outside of science? For example, “beating senior citizens is wrong.”
Skeptics, unlike agnostics, don’t say that truth or God cannot be known. What they do say is that we should doubt or question everything. Skepticism is nothing more than the philosophy of uncertainty. As a skeptic, I would say, truth and/or God do exist, truth and/or God can be known, but I doubt, question, and am indecisive about both. Skepticism by implication, teaches people to procrastinate in making any decisions and to set aside those things that need to be decided on. There are several problems with this philosophy as well:
(1) Skepticism refutes itself as well. Is it possible to be truly skeptical about everything?If skepticism is true, then I should by definition doubt, question, and be indecisive about skepticism as well, shouldn’t I? How is it that I should be skeptic of everything but skepticism itself? I wouldn’t be a very good skeptic would I?
(2) To procrastinate in making a decision about anything is to actually make a decision about it. If you are a skeptic and decide not to make a decision about God, you’ve just made a decision; the decision was not to decide (that is a decision, right?).
(3) Skepticism prevents people from being proactive and assertive in doing what they know needs to be done. It causes us to suppress the truth by making us question it (I am talking about the things all humans inherently know to be true in their very soul). It paralyzes us from moving either left or right because we just don’t know.
This is perhaps the most popular philosophy about truth in society today. Relativism states that absolute truth that applies to everybody, everywhere, always, is non-existent.
In his book The Closing of the American Mind, professor Bloom stated, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely sure of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”
Relativism is the most widely accepted philosophy about truth among our high school and college students. There are though, several problems with relativism:
(1) Relativism, as the previous three philosophies considered, is a self-refuting philosophy. They use an absolute truth statement when they say that “all truth is relative.” These philosophical arguments about truth are at best hypocritical arguments. Relativists claim that what they believe is absolutely true for all people, everywhere, always, and that any other view is untrue. But how can this be, how can everybody else’s views be false and theirs true if according to them there is no such thing as absolute truth because all truth is relative? Wouldn’t the statement “all truth is relative” be itself untrue and relative? It is a self-refuting and circular argument. To say that there is no absolute truth by saying that that philosophy is absolutely true is illogical and defies all common sense.
(2) Truth must have by definition “something fixed and absolute by which to correspond in the real world”. If, according to relativists, truth is relative, then truth must be relative to something else. The question is what is it relative to? Well, it ends up being relative to the relative to the relative, and so on (with no end to what it’s relative to). The problem with that is that if there is nothing in the real world for a person’s view of relativism to correspond with, there is no test to see whether it is true. At some stage it has to point to something that is not relative to prove its truthfulness, but since it can’t, then relativism cannot be true.
In writing about relativism, Cornish states that in these postmodern days “Truth is no longer considered the same for all persons, at all times, in all places. Pick your own truth; one version is as good as the next.”
Ironically and without realizing it, every time a relativist says “there is no such thing as absolute truth,” for that moment he has stopped being a relativist because for that moment he has believed in absolute truth. Every time they argue their position, they are arguing it from an absolute truth position, a position that they argue doesn’t exist.
This argument states that if you hope to ever discover truth, you must rely on your feelings and emotions to do so. In other words, if it feels right, if it feels good, then it must be true. There are several problems with this philosophy as well:
(1) Feelings and emotions are constantly changing, how can we possibly make them the test by which we determine whether something is true or not. If truth is subjective, then truth would be continually changing since our feelings and emotions are continually changing. Just think of how ludicrous that would be. Think of how often we would have to change our minds about any given thing in a week’s time. Many certainties such as the law of gravity or the law of thermodynamics would have to be revised often depending on how a given scientist feels. Why bother printing textbooks, after all, the authors’ feelings and emotions may change a month after the book has been published requiring it to be recalled and re-written, again and again!
(2) What if a lecturer made a statement in an auditorium full of people and hundreds of people felt differently about the statement he made. How would we determine what the truth of his statement is since everybody’s subjective feelings differ? Whose feelings are right? According to subjectivism, the only conclusion we can reach is that the statement is true, but only to him and those who may agree with him, even though the statement may be objectively true. According to subjectivists, there is no such thing as objective truth, can you imagine the nightmare that scenario creates? The deny something we all, either consciously or unconsciously, know to be true, not that objective truth can exist but that it does. The point is, nothing could ever be true if truth is determined by our feelings, emotion, and intuition!
(3) We all know that bad news can be true, or is it? Nobody likes or feels good about bad news, and if truth is only what makes us feel good then all bad news must be untrue. I suppose, then, that the next time someone’s boss tells that person he is being laid off from work, he should dismiss it as a false statement and still show up to work the next day as if nothing had happened. Insane! Geisler states, “In short, feelings can be a result of or reaction to truth, not a basis of truth.”
Cornish states, “As with all good things, emotions must be kept in proper context. But in much of our culture, our feelings overstep our God-intended bounds because we rank them over reason. Emotions cannot determine truth or decide right from wrong. Feeling good does not suggest that something is true, and feeling bad does not indicate it’s false. Emotions contain no content, no information by which to evaluate truth or falsehood. Our reasoning capacity performs that function. Emotions are the part of the soul that appreciates and responds to life. Expecting them to identify truth is like asking our ears to smell a flower. They can’t because ears weren’t made for smelling.”
In writing about pluralism, Guinness stated, “There is no truth, only truths. There is no grand reason, only reasons. There is no privileged civilization (or culture, beliefs, norms, and styles), only a multiplicity of cultures, beliefs, periods, and styles. There is no universal justice, only interests and the competition of interest groups. There is no grand narrative of human progress, only countless stories of where people and their cultures are now.”
Moseley writes, “…pluralism is the cultural doctrine that each community’s ideology or religion is equally legitimate or ‘true.’…Therefore, no idea or system of morality can lay claim to a higher authority. All philosophies are on equal ground, so they should all be given equal validity. …No unifying principle exists, so no unity is possible.”
Copan states that pluralism “maintains that no religion can be considered superior to another. To make an exclusive claim is deemed ‘intolerant’ or ‘arrogant’ by the pluralist.”
The problem with this philosophy is that since all ideologies and religions are equally legitimate and given equal validity, no ideology or religion can ever be wrong or untrue. That would mean that if you took two truth statements, one from one religion and one from another, and they both contradicted each other, they would both still be true. Now, since there are hundreds of ideologies and religions around the world, most of whose truth statements contradict each other, pluralism would argue that all those hundreds of contradicting truth statements would still be true.
Pluralists would argue that when it is all said and done, it doesn’t matter what you believe because at the end all religions will lead all people to the same place, namely heaven. But what about those religions that deny the existence of God or heaven and hell? If their religion is as legitimate and valid as all others and their claims are as true as all others, then how will we know where we are going to end up, since many disagree about the existence of God and in the existence of a place called heaven? If my claim that God and heaven exist are true and their claims that God and heaven don’t exist are also true, how then do we reconcile these completely opposite statements?
Pluralism cannot be true because among other things, it fails to reconcile the simple fact that two or more contradicting statements about the same subject can’t possibly be true (the law of non-contradiction). Rather than uniting, pluralism divides, as does relativism. Pluralism ends up being just another self
refuting claim by arguing that in essence there is no contradiction in contradicting statements. To say that all ideologies and religions are right and true is obviously untrue.
Moseley states, “Hedonism as a philosophy, or worldview, measures the rightness or wrongness of a particular course of action by whether it is pleasurable. “If it feels good, do it; do it if it’s what you feel” is the contemporary proverb that expresses the philosophy of hedonism…hedonism formulates this natural tendency into a philosophy of life, an ism”.
The philosophies of hedonism and naturalism are philosophies that are closely connected:
(1) Hedonism is a result of naturalism; it has a naturalistic view of nature and as such it excludes God from nature as naturalism does. When God is excluded then self is the only one left to whom we answer to.
(2) Naturalism is the result of hedonism. When self-pleasure becomes a persons highest good, inevitably, one’s worldview will exclude God from it because the very thought of God will hinder one’s pursuit of pleasure.
Many of today’s venues that promote those “self-help,” “self-fulfillment,” “personal happiness,” topics have been heavily influenced by hedonism. There is often no mention of the divine during these types of conferences or in the written literature, again, because the divine hinders the pursuit of that which these proponents are peddling. Many Christians have incorporated hedonism into their personal worldview. When “self” takes the place of God in one’s worldview, then when it comes to worship, who are we worshipping? The answer is quite obvious, SELF!
There are, though, some problems with hedonism:
(1) As with all the other “isms,” it is a self-refuting argument and philosophy and as such, it cannot be true.
(2) As with all the other “isms,” its ultimate purpose is to remove God from its worldview thus removing any form of accountability to a divine Judge and elevating “self’ to a god status.
(3) Then there is “the hedonistic paradox.” Here is the paradox; on the one hand, if a hedonist can’t reach the level of pleasure sought, frustration sets in, and frustration is pain. On the other hand, if a hedonist does find that pleasure, he will soon become bored with the pleasure itself or the source of that pleasure. Pleasure and the pursuit of pleasure become an addiction. Boredom and addiction also cause pain.
Either way, the final outcome for the hedonist is pain. Hedonism rather than containing the seed of pleasure, as its proponents argue, it contains the seed of pain.
The Truth about Intolerance
In this postmodern, relativistic, and pluralistic society we live in, it is not unusual for those who believe in absolute truth to be accused of being intolerant and narrow minded. Are those charges and accusations true? Well, let’s consider them more closely:
(1) On the charge of being narrow-minded, there may actually be some truth to that, not because those who believe in absolute truth are narrow-minded themselves but because truth is narrow by definition. For example, if one person states that France is in Asia while another states the France is in South America, is the person who rejects those statements as being false because he happens to know that France is in Europe, intolerant? If somebody who knows that 5 + 5 = 10 rejects somebody else’s statement who says that 5 + 5 = 7, because he has never studied any math, does that make him intolerant? That is nothing more than political correctness run amuck. Truth is narrow by definition because it says that if something is true, then its opposite must be false.
(2) Hypocrisy reigns among those who argue that absolute truth is too narrow. Why? Because the one’s making those claims are as guilty of being narrow-minded as the people they accuse of being narrow-minded, since their claim is made by using absolute truth statements. I am intolerant and narrow-minded when I say that absolute truth exists (an absolute truth statement), but they are not intolerant and narrow-minded when they say truth is relative and there is no such thing as absolute truth (two absolute truth statements). Once again, a self-refuting, circular, and hypocritical argument is being used.
(3) Just because people, particularly Christians, disagree with worldviews or philosophies about truth other people hold, doesn’t mean they are intolerant. By accusing people of intolerance, they prove they don’t understand what intolerance means. Intolerance has nothing to do with truth itself; instead it has to do with the attitude in which one holds truth. Their accusation confuses what is held (truth) with how it is held (attitude). Truth be told, the only way anybody is going to avoid being accused of being intolerant, is to agree with those making the accusations, to accept their claims. Is that not intolerance? When I disagree with their point of view I am intolerant, yet when they disagree with my point of view they are not. Do you see the hypocrisy? If I am intolerant, then they are just as guilty of intolerance as well!
Is It Credible to Believe In Absolute Truth?
In light of the arguments presented for the other philosophies about truth, it seems ridiculous to even ask the question of whether it is credible to believe in absolute truth. But we will ask and answer it as anyway.
People, either consciously or unconsciously, are on a journey in search for truth, for something to believe in. That truth or unchanging reality serves as what we call a fixed point (or absolute). That fixed point is what we use to measure our progress in our journey. Consider this, if truth is relative, then you have no fixed point, without that fixed point, how do we even know we are traveling in the direction we should be traveling in? Well, we won’t. The curious thin is that even relativists themselves have a fixed point (even though they would never publicly acknowledge that).
Relativists know that truth is not relative. That is precisely why they so fervently argue and propagate their view. Think about it, why the battle to convince everybody else that relativism is true if they themselves believed relativism to be true? The point is, relativists would not engage in converting others to become relativists because if they were true relativists, they would know and acknowledge that all worldviews and philosophies about truth are equally valid. But the fact that they do engage in converting people to their point of view and of accusing those who don’t convert of intolerance, just serves to demonstrate that they believe their view to be superior and truer than all other views. It sure appears they are behaving just like “intolerant absolutists,” doesn’t it?
Joseph Fletcher once wrote that, “The situationist avoids words like ‘never’ and ‘perfect’ and ‘always’ and ‘complete’ as he avoids the plague, as he avoids ‘absolutely.’”
Geisler states, “What Fletcher is in effect saying is 1) “one should never use the word ‘never,’” 2) “one should always avoid using the word ‘always,’” and 3) “one should absolutely deny all ‘absolutes.’”
Here is the issue, denying the validity of absolutes violates logic and is self-refuting and self-defeating. “Since it’s self-defeating to argue that all views of reality are false or relative, and it’s contradictory to believe that all views of reality are true, then the only logical option is to believe that some views represent in a more accurate way reality than others.Therefore, in order for philosophical inquiry to make sense, one is forced to believe in absolute truth. It makes sense to believe that there is a knowable, transcendent, and unchanging reality (a fixed point or referent).”
It’s important to return to the whole idea that these philosophies about truth rather then uniting they divide.Moseley says that, “Even when people disagree about the truth, they still share common philosophical ground if they at least can agree that truth exists. When the quest for truth is abandoned, every viewpoint, however spurious, is legitimized, so there is no reason to search for consensus under the banner of the truth.”
Listen to these sobering words, “Since the sixties we have been in the throes of this quiet but desperate revolution of thought—the death of truth…we refer to the truth of what the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer called ‘true truth,’ the extinction of the idea that any particular thing can be known for sure…Today we’ve lost the confidence that statements of fact can ever be anything more than just opinions; we no longer know that anything is certain beyond our subjective preferences. The word truth now means ‘true for me’ and nothing more. We have entered an era of dogmatic skepticism…When truth dies, all of its subspecies, such as ethics, perish with it. If truth can’t be known, then the concept of moral truth becomes incoherent. Ethics become relative, right and wrong matters of individual opinion. This may seem a moral liberty, but it ultimately rings hollow. ‘The freedom of our day,’ lamented a graduate in a Harvard commencement address, ‘is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true’…The death of truth in our society has created a moral decay in which ‘every debate ends with the barroom question ‘says who?’ When we abandon the idea that one set of laws applies to every human being, all that remains is subjective, personal opinion.”
How long can a society or civilization survive when the prevailing philosophy about truth is such? Has history taught us nothing?
Faith and Reason
Is Christianity unreasonable as critics claim? They say it is because according to them, faith contradicts reason. Many believe this and as a result we have seen many within the Church divorce faith from reason, a concern that many evangelicals are addressing, such as J. P. Moreland in his book Love Your God With All Your Mind, and others. This is a charge leveled by those who don’t understand how the Bible defines reason and what is says about the relationship between faith and reason. Neither do they know what orthodox Christianity has historically held and taught concerning this whole issue of faith and reason. Just because they don’t understand the relationship between the two doesn’t make faith or Christianity unreasonable. If only that which we fully understand is reasonable, then most of what we hold to be true in our lives would have to be labeled as unreasonable, isn’t that unreasonable?
God is a rational being; therefore we are rational beings as well since we are created in His image. There are a number of passages in the Bible that clearly teach us that we are to worship God and bring Him glory through our use of reason, we show God that we love Him by using our minds (Deut. 6:4-5; Matt. 22:37).
Faith is unreasonable they say, but why? Not because faith is unreasonable but rather because to them faith is foolish (1 Cor. 1:18).To prove that faith and reason are inseparable, just consider the doctrine of salvation, the threefold nature of saving faith: knowledge, assent, and trust. The point being, we respond to the Gospel through the use of reason, by using our minds.
To the dismay of many who don’t understand Christianity, Christianity doesn’t call people to exercise the type of faith that requires them to take a blind leap in the dark. That which Christians believe and hold as convictions is supported by a great deal of evidence, in fact, Christianity throughout the centuries has survived all sorts of scrutiny, precisely because it is a reasonable faith.
Although it is true that we cannot fully comprehend everything the Bible teaches since the finite mind is incapable of comprehending certain mysteries, this does not render faith/Christianity irrational.
Logical or Illogical?
Cornish writes, “The foundational pillars for thinking, pursuing truth, and acquiring knowledge are the Laws of Logic. These weren’t invented by Aristotle or anyone else. Like gravity, they just are—reflections of God’s reality and the world He made. They govern the way we think, often assumed to be part of our God-given common sense. No moment goes by in which we do not use or assume logic. To deny it requires using it.”
Logic has three interconnected laws:
(1) The Law of Non-contradiction. This law simply states that two contradictory statements about anything cannot be true at the same time and in the same respect. For example, a person cannot smell and not smell at the same time and in the same way.
(2) The Law of Excluded Middle. This law states that something either is or is not. It cannot be both at the same time. For example: you are either smelling or not smelling, there is no middle ground (excluded middle).
(3) The Law of Identity. Simply stated, something is either itself or something else. For example: George Washington is George Washington because he cannot be someone else. To be both George Washington and someone else violates the Law of Identity and is therefore illogical.
As we explored the various “isms” covered in the chapter, we found a common denominator in all of them. Every single one of those philosophies is a self-refuting philosophy. They self-destruct because the very propositions used to make their claims destroy the claim itself. In every case the argument is defeated by itself rendering them all illogical.