Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Truth

I would like to start a bit of a discussion.

This is something I have been pondering lately.



How do we currently define truth? What is our basis for why and how we do this?


Is this how truth has been defined in the past? Is this how truth will be defined ten years from now?




Do we use the word too liberally?



What does truth mean to you? Is that something worth fighting/arguing over?



I'm not going to answer initially. I want to hear all of your opinions. Short, long -- whatever you have to say.

13 comments:

heather said...

deep question. it's gotten pretty complicated because to me truth = fact, but what i consider fact, someone else might consider mis-information or mis-guided notions... there's probably an element of faith invovled because you actually have to believe something to be true (even if it's fact). The information age has really screwed us all up in this whole thing, too.

Cheri said...

I agree with Heather, that can be a deep question. Utimately, I would answer God. Taking a deeper look however it can required a lengthy answer. I would say in order to understand if there is any such thing as absolute truth / universal truth, let us first begin by defining what truth is. Truth is defined by the dictionary as “conformity to fact or actuality; a statement proven to be or accepted as true; reality or actuality.” Yet some people today would say that there is no true reality, only perceptions and opinions. On the other hand others would argue that there must be some absolute reality or truth. Therefore when considering the question as to if there is such a thing as absolute truth, we see two diametrically opposed views. One view says that there are not absolutes that define reality.



Those that hold this view believe that everything is relative and thus there is no actual reality. Because of that there is ultimately no authority for deciding if an action is positive or negative, right or wrong. This view is simply “situational ethics” in its highest form. There is no right or wrong and therefore whatever I feel is right at that time is right. Of course this type of “situational ethics” leads to a “whatever feels good” mentality and lifestyle which has a devastating effect on society and individuals. The other view believes that there are indeed absolute realities or standards that define what is true and what is not. Therefore actions can be determined to be either right or wrong by how they measure up to those absolute standards.



As to whether or not there is such a thing as absolute truth / universal truth I would say, “Yes there absolutely is and thank God there is!” Can you imagine the chaos there would be if there were no absolutes, no reality. Take the law of gravity for instance. If it was not an absolute, one time you might go to take a step and end up miles in the sky and the next time you would not be able to move your body at all. Or think about the confusion what would happen if numbers no longer had absolute values. For instance 2 + 2 would no longer always equal four. If there were no absolute truths the world would be in chaos. There would be no laws of science, no laws of physics, everything would be without meaning and there would be no standards of measurement and no right or wrong. What a mess that would be, but thankfully there is absolute truth and it can be found and understood.



When you stop and think about it, the very thought of someone making a statement that there is no absolute truth is totally illogical. And yet today many people are embracing a cultural relativism that at its heart denies any type of absolute truth. When I hear people say that there is no absolute truth I just want to ask them. “Are you absolutely sure of that? Because it is totally illogical for them to make such a statement since they are making an absolute statement that in itself denies absolute truth. In doing so they are in essence saying that the very fact there is no absolute truth is the one absolute truth you can count on.



There are several logical problems one must overcome to accept or believe that there are no absolute truths / universal truths. The first problem is that of self contradiction. This is seen in the question I posed above and the fact that those who insist that there are no absolutes are in fact themselves believing in an absolute. They are absolutely sure that there is nothing absolute. This type of philosophy is both self-defeating and self-contradictory. Their statement that there are no absolutes is in itself contradicting what they say they believe!



The second problem with the denial of absolute truth / universal truth is the fact that all humans have limited knowledge. As human beings with a limited and finite mind, we cannot logically make absolute negative statements. For example a person can’t logically say “There is no God” (even though many do so) because in order to say that they would need to have absolute knowledge of the entire universe from beginning to end. When people say there is no God or there is no absolute truth (which really in essence are the same thing) the most they can rationally and logically say is “With the limited knowledge I have, I don’t believe that there is a God” or “With the limited knowledge that I have, I don’t believe there is any thing that is absolutely true.” And if they do this honestly then they must also consider the evidences for the existence of God and the existence of His absolute truth.



The third problem with the denial of absolute truth / universal truth is the fact that it fails to live up to what we know to be true in our own consciences, our own experiences and what we see in the “real world.” If there is no such thing as absolute truth then there is nothing ultimately right or wrong about anything. What might be “right for you” does not mean it is “right for me.” While on the surface this type of relativism seems to be very appealing, if it is taken to its logical conclusion it soon proves to be disastrous. Just consider for a moment if there really was no absolute truth and that everything really is relative (no standards of any kind). In essence what happens is everybody sets their own rules to live by and does what they think is right. This causes problems as one person’s sense of right will soon clash with another’s. For example, what if it is "right for me" to ignore traffic lights, even when they are red? In this way I put the life of others at risk. Or, I might think it is right to steal from you and you might think it is not right. In the same way one person might decide that killing people is OK and therefore they attempt to kill everyone in sight.



If there are no absolute standards, no absolute truth and all things are relative then killing everybody is just as right as not killing everybody. Stealing is just as right as not stealing. Cruelty is equal to non-cruelty. What disastrous results the denial of absolute truths can so easily lead to. Because if there is no such thing as absolute truth, then no one can really “You should do that” or “You shouldn’t do that.” If there is no absolute truth then even government itself cannot or should not impose rules on society. Can you see the problem this causes? Total chaos as each person does what is right in their own sight and yet in our consciences we know there is right and be wrong. If there is no absolute truth, no standard of right and wrong that we are all accountable to then we can never be sure of anything. People would be free to do whatever they want—murder, rape, stealing, lying, cheating, etc. and who could say those things would be wrong. There could be no government, no laws and no justice, because one could not even say that the majority of the people have the right to make and enforce standards upon the minority. A world without absolutes would be the most horrible world imaginable.



Today we often hear phrases like "that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me." To those that hold that there is no absolute truth, truth is seen as nothing more than a personal preference or a perception and therefore cannot extend beyond a person’s boundaries. Because of this there are no final answers to the meaning of life and there could be no hope for any type of afterlife. This type of relativism results in religious confusion because there can be no one true religion, no one way of having a right relationship with God, if there is no absolute truth. All religions would therefore be false because they all make claims to teach or believe in some type of after life, some type of absolute truth. This is why it is not uncommon today for people to believe that two diametrically opposed religions could both be equally “true” even though they both claim to have the only way to heaven or teach two totally opposite “truths.” People that don’t believe in absolute truth ignore these claims and embrace a more tolerant universalism that teaches that all religions are equal and all of them will lead to heaven. This is also why people who embrace this worldview will vehemently oppose evangelical Christians who believe the Bible when it says that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that He is the ultimate manifestation of truth and the only way one can get to heaven (John 14:6).



And yet despite the fact that denying absolute truth is both illogical and irrational, the view that “All is relative” has become one of the slogans for the generation we live in. In much of the Western World, multitudes have rejected the possibility that such a thing as absolute truth could or does exist. This has resulted in what many refer to as a post-modern society, which is a society that regards all values, beliefs, lifestyles and truth claims as equally valid. Because of this those that hold to absolute standards of right or wrong are considered intolerant and are routinely condemned, mocked and criticized.



In fact tolerance has become the one cardinal virtue of society, the one absolute if you will and therefore there can only be one evil, that of intolerance. In other words what has happened is that any religious system or individual that believes dogmatically in anything—especially in absolute truth—becomes guilty of intolerance and the only thing a politically correct, relative society will not accept is those that believe in absolutes. Those that deny absolute truth will often say that it is alright to believe what you want, as long as you don’t try to impose your belief on others. But this view itself is a belief about what is right and wrong and those that hold this view most definitely do try to impose it on others and are therefore hypocritical, because they set up a standard of behavior which they then insist that others follow—thereby violating the very thing they pretend to uphold.



The question that begs to be asked is why are those that promote tolerance so intolerant of people who believe in absolute truth? And why are people so willing to embrace a belief system that threatens to destroy the very fabric of society and is at its very heart both irrational and illogical? The simple reason is that people do not want to be accountable for their actions. If there is absolute truth then there are absolute standards of right and wrong and we are then accountable to those standards. This accountability is what people are really trying to deny in their rejection of absolute truth.



The denial of absolute truth / universal truth and the cultural relativism that comes from it are simply the logical result of a society that has embraced the theory of evolution as the explanation for life. Because if evolution is true then life has no meaning, we have no purpose and there cannot be any absolute right or wrong. Man is then free to live life as he pleases and is accountable to no one for his actions. And yet no matter how much sinful men wants to deny the existence of God and of His absolute truth they still will someday stand before Him in judgment because “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,” (Romans 1:18-22).



The final question we should ask when considering whether absolute truth really exists or not, is if there is there any evidence for the existence of absolute truth? If one carefully considers this question it quickly become evident that there is indeed evidence that points to the existence of absolute truth. The first evidence for the existence absolute truth is seen in our conscience. Our conscience tells us that the world should be a “certain way” that some things are “right” and some are “wrong.” It helps us to understand that there is something wrong with suffering, starvation, rape, pain and evil. It makes us aware that love, generosity, compassion and peace are positive things for which we should strive. The Bible describes the role of the human conscience in Romans 2:14-16 where it says that “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”



The second evidence for the existence of absolute truth is seen in science. Science is simply the pursuit of knowledge. It is the study of what we know and the quest to know more. Therefore all scientific study must by necessity be founded upon the belief that there are objective realities that exist in the world. Without absolutes what would there be to scientifically study? How could one know that the findings they made were real? In fact the very laws of science have to be founded on the certainty of absolute truth.



The third evidence for the existence of absolute truth / universal truth is the existence of religion. All the religions of the world are an attempt to give meaning and definition to life. They are born out of the fact that mankind desires something more than simply existing. Behind all religions is a fundamental belief that there must be more to life than simply this physical existence that we now know. Through religion people are looking for assurance and hope for the future, for forgiveness of sins, for peace in the midst of our struggles and for answers to our deepest questions. Religion is really evidence that mankind is more than simply a highly evolved animal. It is evidence of a higher purpose and the fact that there is indeed a personal and purposeful Creator, who implanted into man the desire to know Him. And if there is indeed a Creator then He becomes the standard for absolute truth and it is His authority that establishes that truth.



Fortunately for us there is such a Creator and He has revealed not only Himself but also His truth to us through His very Word, the Bible. If we want to know the absolute truth / universal truth the only way to do that is through a personal relationship with the One who claimed to be the “Truth” Jesus Christ. Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) The fact that absolute truth does exist points us to the truth that there is a sovereign God who created the heavens and the earth and who has revealed Himself to us in order that we might know Him personally through His son Jesus Christ.

Recommended Resource: The New Tolerance, by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler.

y this explains better than anything I have read on the subject.

BeckyD said...

Anne, I must admit that this poses too deep a question for me to think on today...possibly because of the lack of sleep last night or the lack of real stimulating conversation for the past...well, long time. But I will think on it and see what develops!
By the way...I talked to Shelly today. She said she hadn't talked to you in awhile...said the last time she called you were helping your sister-in-law move and you said you'd call back, but never did. Just thought I'd pass on that tidbit of info! :) She's sick so sounded a little down!

cheri said...

When you are bored this week, what I posted should take up at least 20 minutes of your day. Sorry I used up so much space. Well you did ask.....

Jean said...

Hmmm...my brain has been taxed much today about authentic spirituality, so to tackle truth, my brain is blank. It is a complicated thing. let me sleep on it. I do know that God is truth. Though some may argue that point till blue in the face, and that's ok. For me, I know God is truth based on faith. And what God says is truth. From that I live. Anyone could argue about anything concerning what one person says is truth, another may disagree. hmmm...brain is overloading ;) Very good question Anne!!

kassi said...

God is truth...and unfortunately, the human condition makes our perceptions unable to fully understand God. So we need faith. That is my simple version. :)

anne said...

Hey Kassi, I can't get to your site from work anymore...so know that I'm not avoiding/ignoring you at all. Apparently, 'they' are on to me!

Carbon said...

To me it's about facts. I come from a scientific and logic background and believe the most facts that lead to the solution is the most proven actuality. I'm also religionless, unlike the above commentors, so God or another form of higher being doesn't play into it for me. There is a lot of things I don't understand but there are answers for them out there but I can't know it all so educated guesses and common sense with err to caution come into play a lot.

Andy said...

holy long post cheri! -good insights.

alright, i have 2 separate thoughts on this. part 1:

my struggle with truth is more internal, trying to balance being a realist or an idealist.

Christ had all these wacky ideas, things like loving your enemy, the first will be last, etc. that all fly in the face of reality. to me there are times to say, "that's the way things are, and theres nothing i can do about it" which is true, sometimes.

other times i find myself seeing the way things should be and trying to act on that instead. so for me that is the tension. balancing this mythical "kingdom of heaven" that Christ talked about and the reality of life.

part 2:
i think that the beauty of the postmodern midset is that is forces us to search for truth, rather than just accept what we're told. don't get me wrong, i believe there are absolute facts and truth, but in the past what made truth true was that it is what you were told was true. i think that having to sort through the confusion will only strengthen the truth when you finally find it.

andy said...

more from me.

anyone familiar with plato's story of the cave?

the idea is that a guy is chained up in a cave facing a wall. behind him is a fire and from time to time people and other various animals walk by this fire. since he is chained facing the opposite way, all he sees are the shadows cast by the fire as they walk by. so what he percieves to be a person or a horse or a cat is really just a shadow of that person, etc.

one day someone breaks his chains and he turns around and sees a person and other things for the first time. it is similar to the shadow, but infinitly more detailed. he now has a new perceptive of the truth of what a human looks like.

but he is still in a cave. someone explains to him the sun. it's a big light. his perception of light is simply the fire in the cave. one day he walks outside and is blinded by the sun. slowly his eyes adjust and his perception of light must change. the fire he thought was light is weak in comparison. in addition he sees humans and other animals for the first time in sunlight, again seeing them in a new way and is forced to once again redefine his reality.

of course this is a summary, there is much more too it. the idea being that we base our knowledge on our surroundings, when there may be more. here is his conclusion:

"This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed."

andy said...

more plato:

http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/ALLEGORY.HTM

andy said...

someone stop me!

kind of sucks when your brain gets going. perhaps this is an old enough post that no one checks it much, so i won't annoy anyone with my unceasing posting...

what comes next after postmodernity? i theorize that we are moving on quickly from the postmodern era. i think it is more of a transition than an era. i think this because even the church is beginnig to embrace it and they are the last group to embrace cultural shifts. so i think the culture is ready to move. and to follow the plato thing i think i have a suspicion where it is going.

to stick with the cave allegory, the difference between the modern and postmodern view of truth is not that one is the cave and one is the sunlight. they are both the cave, with 2 takes on interpretation. modern truth makes us the prisoners and we hear from those who have been outside what true light is. but we are still in a cave. postmodern truth still keeps us as the prisoners and as the following era to the modern we are still influenced by what the experts tell us on sunlight, but we take the freedom to interpret the facts for ourselves. truth is in fact relative, since what we percieve is in fact shadows. we know we are looking at shadows and accept it as relative. what we forget is that those shadows come from something physical. by interpreting our own reality ultimately confine ourselves to our own cave.

what is next is that we will become sick of hearing truth from an accepted source and want to think for ourselves. we will become sick of our reality as shadows and look for the truth of real sunlight. the difference is that we will walk out and find it ourselves. and just like the allegory we will be in pain as our eyes adjust and for a time the other prisoners will see better than us. but then they will adjust and we will see more clearly than we have before. the eyes adjusting are the most confusing part of postmodern truth. and i have no idea where this train of thought goes from here...made more sense in my head.

cheri said...

Holy long post Andy..Good insights