What is Truth? A Reader’s Challenge

truthA reader named Charlie wrote with his thoughts about my last post, “The Age of Slumber:”

Good post. I’ve been reading an even more eloquent version of the same ideas from Timothy Keller called Reason for God.What bothers me, however is the somewhat snooty tone. An appeal to reason seems to be not the best approach to evangelism. It’s like saying, “You must be dumb to believe what you do.” Any faith (be it agnosticism, Christianity, or anything else) eventually fails the reason test if pushed far enough.  At some point you just need to put your faith in an uncaused cause (which we have no way of testing). The irony is thick when Abbott uses the words “naturally” and “transcendent” in the same sentence in the third to last paragraph. By definition “transcendence” is anything but natural. If we are going to believe in an “Order that governs the universe” we must take a blind leap of faith that there is such a thing, especially if we are going to claim that he stands “outside” of the universe (which sort of confuses the normal use of the word “universe” – which normally means everything there is).  Christians are quick to railroad atheism because most people who claim to be atheists don’t realize that they still hold on to a set of values they can’t rationally support. That being said, I don’t think that most non religious people are atheists. Most of them just don’t know what is true and haven’t been convinced by any choice presented to them. Unfortunately people use the word “truth” to mean “best guess” when they seem to be talking about conflicting points of view. Of course it doesn’t make sense to talk about multiple truths when using the literal definition of the word truth, but I think that most people are just talking about opinions of truth, not truth itself. 

I just recently flew with a guy that I believe had a valid point. He said that atheists can be just as dogmatic as Christians in their claim on truth, but the irony of the whole thing is that those who don’t know or claim to know truth might be the closest ones to it – because they are willing to be wrong. With so many variations on truth claims out there, there is little chance that anyone has it exactly right. It’s the person that is willing to be challenged and corrected that has the best chance of at least proximity to truth. I couldn’t disagree with his logic. What keeps me committed to Christianity is not anything rational. It is the intangibles: the experience of true love, peace and joy – sometimes in myself, but more often observed in others. The rational approach is tiring for me. As much as I appreciate the efforts made by Abbott and others I have become less and less convinced they work. I think what is more useful – to God anyway – is a character that reflects him, an open mind, and a listening ear.   

Dear Charlie:

First, I am never offended by criticism. I enjoy a challenge, which will end up in one of two ways: 1) I will successfully vindicate my position or 2) I will be forced to adjust my position in light of the argument presented. At the very least, I have had to clarify my position here, which I hope you will appreciate.

argument5I plead guilty to being impatient with postmodern thought, which is hopelessly capricious and bankrupt of logic. However, I am not “snooty.” As I acknowledged toward the end of the article, I possess truth only because God revealed it to me. I agree that argument is not the best approach to evangelism.

“Any faith (be it agnosticism, Christianity, or anything else) eventually fails the reason test if pushed far enough.  At some point you just need to put your faith in an uncaused cause (which we have no way of testing).” 

Absolutely! Although some unbelievers may be swayed by the use of reason (there have been some spectacular examples of atheists being converted by the preponderance of the evidence — C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel to name a few), most aren’t, since the prevailing tendency is for humans to use their intellects to rationalize choices they have already committed to in their hearts. Eventually, any serious attempt to pursue Christ will take the person beyond the observable world and into the realm of faith. Hence, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

This article was written mainly for the believer who may have fallen prey to some of these postmodern fabrications, which have colored everything in the modern world — art, literature, media, entertainment and even theology and philosophy to a large degree. The zeitgeist tells us there is no such thing as truth, meaning it is unknowable or that we can make our own truth (yes, there are people who actually believe this!), that we can hazard some guesses and proceed in a good general direction and that will suffice. If there is a God, he understands and can be counted on to grade on a curve. None of this is valid in the light of Scripture, of course (Anyone who disagrees should read Romans 1.), and pointing this out was the purpose of the article. In spite of the indefensibility of the “no truth” philosophy, many people, including self-professing Christians, have been sidetracked in their thinking because of it.

The semantic breakdown which supposedly found a contradiction between the words “naturally” and “transcendence,” in the beginning of the third to the last paragraph is a misread. The word “naturally” was used to mean “of course,” not “in alignment with the material world.”

The American Heritage Dictionary gives three definitions of the word “naturally”:

  1. in a natural manner
  2. by nature; innately
  3. as one might expect; of course

Likewise, there is, in my mind, no issue with using the word “universe” in the context of a discussion about God, who stands outside the space-time continuum. “Universe” usually refers to everything that exists in the material realm. But even if God is considered to be inside the universe, it wouldn’t mean he is under the constraints of the laws of time, space and physics. No one has traveled into other galaxies and studied gravity, mass, etc., so we don’t know that the entire universe is “natural.”

Unfortunately people use the word “truth” to mean “best guess” when they seem to be talking about conflicting points of view. Of course it doesn’t make sense to talk about multiple truths when using the literal definition of the word truth, but I think that most people are just talking about opinions of truth, not truth itself.” 

ostrichWhen people throw around the phrases “my truth,” or “my God,” they aren’t saying, “this is how I understand the absolutes in Scripture,” they are usually sidestepping the unpalatable parts of Scripture and avoiding a reckoning with Truth altogether. I can talk myself into all kinds of ideas about who God is, how he deals with sin and how this world works, but all I’ve done is bury my head in the sand. The phrase “multiple truths” would be rejected by most people because of the obvious irrationality on its face, but that is indeed how many people operate. How often have we heard people say that we may find truth and salvation through any number of routes (including Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and other religions). This is an example of the “multiple truths” philosophy since in fact these belief systems are all in contradiction with each other. Either there is a Triune God (which Christians believe), a monolithic God (Islam), no God but instead a state of nirvana (Buddhism) or anywhere up to 300,000 gods (Hinduism). Only one version is true (Truth). In many other ways, people equivocate to avoid committing themselves, and often say that there are “multiple truths,” though not in so many words.

I just recently flew with a guy that I believe had a valid point. He said that atheists can be just as dogmatic as Christians in their claim on truth, but the irony of the whole thing is that those who don’t know or claim to know truth might be the closest ones to it – because they are willing to be wrong.”

This is refreshing and true insofar as its indictment of atheism, which bolsters its own argument by disparaging the Christian’s claim to truth, even while it insists on its own version of truth. But being “willing to be wrong” isn’t the same thing as saying that there is no way to reach truth. The fact is that we are all wrong. The scriptures declare, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4) and “…their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:21) There are dogmatic people in every belief system, but the mark of the authentic Christian isn’t “I’m right,” or “We’re right,” but “Jesus is Lord, and he has given us one concrete guide to live by ― the Bible.” Scripture promises wisdom to Christ’s followers (Jas. 1:5) and the counsel of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7) to ensure we get where we need to go. In the final analysis, everyone who takes truth seriously must be prepared to change in accordance with what is revealed to them in the Word. This takes sincerity, humility and obedience. This last point is where I agree most with Charlie:

It’s the person that is willing to be challenged and corrected that has the best chance of at least proximity to truth.”

I agree, although without the implicit hesitation. If we are willing to follow truth wherever it may lead and ask God for guidance and wisdom as we use his Word, we will certainly find all the truth we need to be saved and walk with God, though of course we cannot find all truth. Only God is omniscient, and as Paul wrote, “For we know in part…” (1 Co. 13:9) ECOFOTO-shaft-of-light-summerBut everything we put in our bag has to be aligned with the Word, or we’re lost. Our job is to stay in the Word and put it into practice in our lives. God will see to the rest, if we ask him sincerely.

Thanks for reading, Charlie.

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About Douglas Abbott

I am a freelance writer by trade, philosopher and comedian by accident of birth. I am an assiduous observer of humanity and endlessly fascinated with people, the common elements that make us human, what motivates people and the fingerprint of God in all of us. I enjoy exploring the universe in my search for meaning, beauty and friendship. My writing is an extension of all these things and something I did for fun long before I ever got paid. My hope is that the reader will find in this portfolio a pleasing and inspiring literary hodgepodge. Good reading!
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2 Responses to What is Truth? A Reader’s Challenge

  1. Charlie Cliffe says:

    Thanks for your response.
    -Charlie

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