“What is truth?”Pontius Pilate, 1st Century Roman Governor (John 18.38)
The war of the worldviews dates all the way back to Satan’s efforts to undermine truth in the garden of Eden. When Satan whispered, “Did God really say…?” into Eve’s ear, he planted seeds of doubt in God’s truth. Her acceptance of the deceit was the rejection of God’s truth, and ultimately, the destruction of harmony in the world.
Even though millennia have come and gone, Satan continues to employ the same deception because it continues to be effective!
Did God really say…
…we have to forgive everybody?
….pride is something He hates?
…adultery is wrong?
…practicing homosexuality is sinful?
Absolute truth is taboo. People who adhere to definite truths are labelled “narrow-minded” and “bigoted.” Rather than recognizing truth as fixed and objective, truth is seen by our post-modern culture as fluid and subjective. The majority of our current cultural battles dance around this issue of “your truth” vs “my truth.”
There is no “your truth” and “my truth”; there is only the truth.
Before we can have an intelligent discussion about hot-button issues, we must establish that there is a standard for truth, and that such a standard is far greater and more reliable than popular opinion.
Understanding the Exclusivity of Truth
Truth is, by definition, “an indisputable fact.” Indisputable = exclusivity. We know, for instance, that our solar system has a certain order. The planets orbit the sun and the earth is not the center of the universe. The sun is not the moon. It does not perform the same function as the moon. It cannot be both sun and moon at the same time. It is a star known as the sun and does not even possess the same composition as the moon. Just because someone wants to believe it’s a moon does not make it so, and vice versa.
We all recognize the exclusivity of the term “fact.”
Geisler and Turek in their book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, summarize this exclusivity using a principle called “The Law of Noncontradiction”:
“The Law of Noncontradiction is a self-evident first principle of thought that says contradictory claims cannot both be true at the same time in the same sense. In short, it says that the opposite of true is false… Suppose you see a married couple on the street one day…and you ask the wife if it’s true that she’s expecting a baby. If she says “yes” and her husband says “no,” you don’t say, “Thanks a lot, that really helps me!” You think, “Maybe she hasn’t told him, or maybe they misunderstood the question (or maybe something worse!).”
For more on this concept of truth and logic, read their book! I am still in the middle of it, but I have gained a some excellent insights from it.
Who decides what constitutes truth?
If we agree that there is definitely truth and that we can know this truth, it follows that there must be a standard of truth. Who or what determines what is true?
Do Scientists Determine What is Truth?
If you were to listen to modern-day society, truth is relative, determined by cultural sentiment and/or professional prestige. Have you ever read (or heard) someone use the phrase, “Because, you know, science.”? This is a commonly used conclusion to online arguments.
I had two excellent science teachers in high school and an excellent Chemistry professor in college, and they worked very hard to establish in our minds that there are observations which are consistently repeated, repeatable (and therefore true), and then there are theories which are generally accepted but may contain flaws. To these men, there was a significant difference between fact, hypothesis, and theory.
Let’s look at what one current science organization posts about “facts” and “theories”:
I underlined two illuminating statements in the above photo:
- “Truth in science…is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.” (In other words, facts are fluid. Truth is only truth insofar as it is “accepted” by the wider scientific community.)
- “[A Theory] In science [is] a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.“
Do you notice that those potentially discardable facts are used to substantiate the well-substantiated theory? If it seems like contradictory reasoning, it is.
A theory is an explanation based on current research and observation that may or may not be repeatable. A theory has the potential to contain exceptions (or be erroneous) because we lack omniscience. Theories and facts are not synonymous words (Look in a thesaurus and it will list theory as an antonym of fact!). Facts are supposed to contain greater certainty than theories. In the modern scientific community, the lines between facts and theories seem blurred.
The reason the NCSE considers truth to be fluid is due to the long history of accepted scientific “facts” eventually debunked through additional research. Just because a wide body of professionals accepted erroneous facts does not mean there is not an ultimate truth. Truth is not fluid, we are simply slow in reaching an understanding of the vast wealth of information about the world God has created.
While scientists have helped to advance our understanding of the natural world, their rejection of a standard of truth makes them unpredictable and unreliable. Honest science is a great tool, and one we ought to use in our efforts to seek truth. Scientific study often brings glory to the Creator of the natural world, and I encourage Christians to study science. The scientific community, however, is not the ultimate source of truth.
Should popular opinion determine truth?
There is a reason the United States is not a democracy. The founders feared “mob mentality.” Being well-versed in the classics and ancient western history, they were familiar with the failure of previous democracies (like the Greeks). Using some of the Greek’s democratic ideals and a many of the Roman republic models, they fashioned a system of government we now know as a representative republic, also referred to as a constitutional republic.
Power and popularity may sometimes be used for positive peer pressure, but history bears out that these two tools often lead to abuse and death. Under Hitler’s regime, hating Jews was popular. Being a Christian in the Muslim-controlled sectors of the Middle East is tantamount to wearing a target on your back. Non-white people were once viewed as “inferior” by the majority of the population within the United States and Western Europe. History clearly demonstrates the danger of using popular opinion to determine truth.
Has anyone ever told you that your narrow-minded Christian views are sitting, “on the wrong side of history?” This expression implies that our morals ought dependent upon the popular views of both the modern and future cultures. If morals are dependent upon our culture alone, then there is no real standard for truth or morality. We cannot have just laws or make right judgments if morality is determined by popular sentiment.
The word “tolerance” is bandied about liberally in our modern culture. It is not merely understanding that there are other points of view, but a demand that we accept those viewpoints as another form of truth, even if they are untrue!
The Post-Modern Mindset which encompasses much of our country is well explained by Stanley J. Grenz, seminary professor and author: “The postmodern worldview operates with a community-based understanding of truth. It affirms that whatever we accept as truth and even the way we envision truth are dependent on the community in which we participate. Furthermore, and far more radically, the postmodernist worldview affirms that this relativity extends beyonds our perceptions of truth to its essence: there is no absolute truth, rather truth is relative to the community in which we participate.”
In The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Joshua McDowell writes, “This [new definition of tolerance]… assumes that truth is inclusive, that it gathers under its wings claims that oppose each other. The fact, however, is that all truth is exclusive… for it must exclude as false that which is not truth.“
Popular sentiment cannot and does not determine truth.
Jesus is the truth.
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, ESV
In one of history’s great ironies, Jesus stood before Pilate when he asked the age-old question, “What is truth.” The Author and Essence of truth stood before Pilate, and he couldn’t even recognize it!
Jesus, being one with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, created this world and the truths about this world. The primary reason why people throughout the ages have struggled to ascertain truth is because they reject the only One who knows the truth. He knows the truth because He established it. He knew about the force we call “gravity” long before Newton. He knew how tornadoes would form before humans figured it out. He knew the destructive power of sin before Eve ever thought of feasting on forbidden fruit.
God has established moral truths from the beginning. His laws have changed (we are no longer forbidden to eat a particular fruit, nor are we under the Mosaic Law), but He has not. What was anathema to Him at the beginning (pride, deceit, evil, injustice, hate) remains anathema to Him today.
Because God is the author of truth, He is the best source of truth. His standards of “right” and wrong are the ones that we should adhere to—not unstable popular opinion. His facts are reliable and verifiable. God’s moral standards are not antiquated; they are eternal. Follow Him, and you will walk in truth and love.
This is part three of the series “Teaching the Truth in Love.” Tune in next week for the post, “How Can We Trust the Bible?”
To read the previous posts, click the links below: