Quid Est Veritas…again

Many moons ago I posted on the concept of truth, and specifically on Focus on the Family’s “Truth Project.” Now Earl has gone and brought up the subject again, albeit from a different angle. Keep in mind that he is writing to the evangelical community with which he has experience. He and I are good friends. Now I’m going to take a few moments and point out why I think Earl’s three absolutes of truth are not, in fact, absolute. Keep in mind that, for the most part, I agree with what Earl is getting at (that is, Christians ought to stop assuming that the world should work according to what the Bible defines as right. Now, how Christians should act is a completely different matter). Onto the three absolutes of truth.

1. Truth is self-evident.
A line right out of the Declaration of Independance – so unlike you Earl! I’d like to believe that all truth is self-evident, but I’m unable to really get on board with that. I think it works – to a point. I realize that you’re working specifically within the frame work of religion and philosophy, but if I can bring in science for a moment I think I’ll make my point quite clearly. The way in which bacteria evolve is not self-evident. To be sure, you could observe it with a microscope, but without some kind of education you would not understand what you are seeing. You couldn’t pluck up a peasant from 1456 and plop him down in front of a microscope and expect him to understand what he was seeing. Yet, clearly, bacteria exist and evolve. Bringing it back around to religion, the idea of a single-God may seem self-evident to us today in the West (as evidenced by the three major religions), but is hardly as self-evident in other circles, or in the past. So, I think ultimately that some truth’s are self-evident (Murder is bad, for instance) but others are less self-evident (how many gods? A God at all?).

2. Truth is self-manifesting
I’m not really sure I understand your point with this one.

3. Truth is indisputable
To be honest, I’m surprised this was your third one. People all over the place dispute all kinds of things that are “true.” Take the fact that, basically, the entire conservative Christian community disputes evolution. Now, it might be nice to think that things are indisputable, but that isn’t always the case. We might say that evolution isn’t actually disputed, and that those who do dispute it are silly, but what about another example? What about the person who says that stealing in all circumstances is wrong. But then I person comes along and says that stealing from the rich to help the poor is fine. A third person comes along and says that neither of those are quite right, its only okay to steal to save someone’s life. Which truth is true? The fact that truth is disputable is why we have multiple religions, and multiple factions within those religions. There may be a bare minimum, a lowest common denominator, of truth that is shared across all religions, but that’s certainly not shared or at least not shared without disputation between religious people and non-religious people.

In the end, I think that we may be talking about something entirely different from truth. I’d like to say we’re talking about right and wrong. But I don’t know if those three things really apply to those either. So, I guess ultimately I’m not convinced that Earl’s three absolutes hold water.

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3 thoughts on “Quid Est Veritas…again

  1. Calvin, this might end up a very fun conversation yet. For the record, I don’t believe in ‘truth’ for the simple fact that I believe everything is relative to the observer’s personal bias. That being said, I’m addressing a modernist view of truth and how that plays itself out-

    1. the bacteria’s evolution is not predicated on the observer’s understanding. It happens. It can clearly be seen, the problem is the uneducated observer. the reality hasn’t changed simply because one fails to understand it.

    2. Truth ALWAYS is. We can never talk about truth beyond the present. We cannot hypothesize or extrapolate and call our conclusions truth. This is true in science and religion. When you make an educated guess based on information it is called a theory. Many scientists and evangelicals fail to understand this aspect.

    3. This admittedly is my weakest point, but I still stand behind it. The point I was attempting to make is that, from a modernist’s perspective, if ‘truth’ can logically be argued using all of the available information then it is not ‘truth’.

    The existence of any God can never be called truth. The existence of morality, beyond what is universally understood cannot be called truth either.

    Bottom line of all this, I wanted to give substance to my thoughts as of recent. Too often evangelicals have mistaken their opinions for universal absolutes and my hope was to boil down, from a modernist perspective, the concept and usage of ‘truth’ to a handful of rules by which they could use to separate their religious opinion from universally applicable fact.

    Thoughts?

  2. You don’t believe in truth or you don’t believe in the knowledge of truth?

    I think most equate truth with reality, therefore regardless of dispute, truth/reality simply is. The knowledge of truth on the other hand is different. If you and I were sitting on two sides of the same apple, regardless of our observations, the reality of the apple, it’s mass, color, shape etc. remains. The problem with some people is they believe they have the “truth” of the apple based on a manual put out by it’s grower and they fail to see that the “truth” of the apple is filtered through their observation of the truth of the manual. So regardless how accurate the manual is, the reader is putting their bias into it, therefore the knowledge of truth is going to be based on the observer’s perspective, but the reality of truth still remains. But if you argue that to one who holds their absolutes so firmly , they will think that the Spirit has let you fall into blindness… as in romans 1. Because God abandoned us when we started teaching evolution is schools, but slavery and colonization was ok, because we knew the truth back then.

  3. Alex gets to the hear of the matter. Too often, in these conversations, “truth” is confounded with “knowledge.” “Truth” is absolute if we define “Truth” as “Reality.” God is the source of Reality and thus is the author of all Truth. Essentially, this is the doctrine of creation.

    “Knowledge,” however, is not synonomous with “Truth.” Only God has perfect knowledge and therefore only God knows Truth absolutely. Humans, being creatures and not God, necessarily have limited knowlede and therefore never know truth absolutely. A human claim about Truth is a human knowledge claim and therefore can never be “absolute” in the sense that we would attribute to God. Humans can know and speak about absolute Truth only analogically because we don’t have the direct and comprehensive access to Reality that is possessed only by God.

    What we can say is that, in virtue of being made in the image of God, humans are capable of making claims about Truth that can be justified as being highly reliable. Such claims can be about absolute Truth, such as the claim that “Jesus is Lord.” We can assert that a statement such as “Jesus is Lord” is “absolute Truth,” in that we believe it is a reliable statement about Reality and that Reality is not otherwise. However, we cannot translate that statement into a claim of “absolute knowledge,” because human knowledge simply is never absolute.

    I think these distinctions between Reality, Truth, and Knowledge help us be a bit more responsible and humble in our apologetics. Leslie Newbiggin had it right — we have a “proper confidence,” not a Cartesian rational proof.

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