What is Truth?

Some say it can’t be known. Others postulate it is relative to each individual and situation, or is a matter of perspective, or perhaps is just “what works.” The trend in most peoples’ mind is that whatever truth is, it is not absolute… certainly not something upon which everyone can or even should agree. As Norman Geisler states in his book, BECA, “There are many kinds of truth, physical, mathematical, historical, and theoretical” (p. 742). However, here the reader will find discussion about the nature of truth.

Let’s examine these arguments about truth before defining it.

  • Argument: “There is no such thing as absolutes or absolute truth.”
    • Answer: “Do you assert that as being truthful and absolute?”
  • Argument: “Truth cannot be known, and no one has the truth.” [ex. Immanuel Kant]
    • Answer: “Do you know for sure that truth cannot be known? How did you come to know that truth cannot be known, and how do you know what you say is true? How can you know for certain that no one has the truth? Do you have all knowledge?”
  • Argument: “Truth may or may not be able to be known. Truth may be unknowable.”
    • Answer: “Your argument only serves to establish uncertainty. Are you ready to admit your uncertainty? Whoever is uncertain about a matter should not expect to be seen as having anything definitive to say. That is, the uncertain should not be taken seriously. So, why should I consider you seriously?”
    • Answer: “Since you are uncertain, why do you resist persuasion? That is, why do you hold the uncertain as a defensible position? It is irrational and intellectually dishonest to defend uncertainty.”
  • Argument: “It is pride/narrow-mindedness to be certain about truth/absolutes.”
    • Answer: “That is a very narrow and absolute statement about truth/absolutes. Are you certain it is the truth?”
  • Argument: “We may not be able to be certain of absolutes/truth.”
    • Answer: “You have switched the argument from the nature of truth itself to questioning the ability of humanity to know truth. I reply with: ‘you were able to make a truth statement just now,’ and I add, ‘you were even able to make a statement of uncertainty, which begs the question of our ability to make statements of certainty. In any case, are you certain about your statement?'”
  • Argument: “Truth is only what’s scientifically provable.” [ex. Empiricism]
    • Answer: “Is your statement scientifically provable?”
  • Argument: “Truth is that which is coherent. Truth is what’s consistent & comprehensive.”
    • Answer: “Yes, truth does cohere, but to what–itself? It is consistent but about what? It is comprehensive but about what?” If truth does not correspond coherently to reality, if it does not describe reality as it is, then consistency and comprehensiveness are altogether inadequate for a proper definition of truth.
  • Argument: “Truth is relative. Truth is a matter of perspective. It is found in persons, not in propositions.” [ex. Soren Kirkengaard, Martin Buber, existentialism]
    • Answer: “You’re postulating an absolute, so your argument is self-defeating. Are you prepared to accept your statement is relative, i.e. only applies as to your opinion at this time and place based on your limited experience, perspective, etc.? Whatever is circumstantially true is absolutely true to that circumstance, no matter what.” (ex. If it is true that I am hungry at 12:23pm EST in Indiana on Jan. 27th when I say that I am hungry at that place and time, then that is true no matter if you believe me or not.) “What is true will be relevant, but not everything relevant is true” (Geisler, p. 742).
  • Argument: “Truth is what works.” [ex. John Dewey; pragmatism]
    • Answer: “Pragmatism leaves out ethics and morals. Is it ok for you to rob me, kill me, etc. if that is truth for you? Would that argument hold in court? Try living a day based on pragmatism and no ethics.”
  • Argument: “Truth is what everyone is really meaning to say. Truth is the thing intended.”
    • Answer: “Sincerity merely embellishes truth; it cannot define it. Are we to understand every absurdity is true if intended to be truth?” (ex. Just because one sincerely states that Austria is in the South Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean does not make the statement true.)
  • Argument: “What is true for you is not true for me.”
    • Answer: “Does your statement apply to everyone?” Apply this consistently in every area of life, and you’ll soon find yourself locked away either in an insane asylum or in jail.
  • Argument: “Truth is what feels good. If it feels good, do it.”
    • Answer: “Hearing that your loved one is dead would not feel good, but it is still the truth. On the other hand, conscience (and feeling good in one’s conscience) may be a guide if and only if that conscience is formed on truth. Conscience is not truth, and conscience may be misguided or misinformed or even broken by misuses.”
  • Argument: “A thing is true to me if I believe it. It is false to me if I reject it.”
    • Answer: “That is a truthful description of your faith, but it does not change the definition of truth itself; nor does it change any reality. Laws of nature exist whether you believe in them or not; but you live by them, whether you realize it or not.
    • Answer: “Who made you the standard for revealing truth and falsehood? Are you morally flawless, inerrant/authoritative, and all-knowing? Are you Truth?”

Clearly, these arguments concerning truth do not hold up to themselves.

Truth is: accurate description of or correspondence with reality.

Therefore, truth is verifiable but not verification itself. Truth is both descriptive (tells it like it is) and prescriptive (authoritative), since it deals with honest representation of reality; and since no one in a rational state of mind wishes to live counter-reality. Also, truth can be defended since it is verifiable when properly defined; and such defenses are not narrow-minded, if one realizes defenses of the truth are defenses of accurate and honest descriptions of reality. Indeed, truth seekers and truth defenders are the broadest minds.

  1. Truth can be stated along with falsehood, and so, becomes half-truth, which is a whole lie.
  2. Truth can be flatly contradicted by a lie, but the lie is always false and will bear out eventually.
  3. Truth can be distorted by redefinition or confusion about the nature of truth, but these are always self-defeating arguments. (ex. above arguments)
  4. Truth, in its evidences, can be “delayed” in our sense of time; and so, truth can be doubted as true as a result of seeming untrue to the present.
  5. Truth can be doubted based on circumstantial evidence to the contrary; but this fails somewhere, somehow to take all evidence into account, whether its not being discovered yet or its having been suppressed or overlooked.

Doubts and lies cannot change the truth or reality, because reality cannot be changed. It simply is. One is either in alignment with it or not. 

The historical Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus Christ by saying, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) At that time, Christ remained silent, as if to say, ‘behold me.’ If only the Roman judge had heard Christ’s earlier claims. “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life” (John 14:6). How can Jesus have claimed to be truth itself? He stated to his disciples that if they had seen him, then they had also seen the Father, because Jesus and God are One (John 14:7-9). Furthermore, Jesus is the express image–the exact imprint–of the Father (Heb. 1:3). Since God is Truth, and since Jesus Christ is One (co-equal) with God, then Jesus is Truth. If Jesus were not co-equal with God the Father, then Jesus would not be truthful in claiming to be the Truth. This is the fallacy of Mormons and all heresies against Christ. But, for everyone else, we must decide the matter to which C. S. Lewis brings us in his Trilemma:  “Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “What is Truth?

  1. Apologists seem to be under the impression your first two self-defeating arguments against truth are popular among atheists, but I don’t know anyone who makes them.

    Presented Argument: “There is no such thing as absolutes or absolute truth.”
    Real Argument: “There may not be such a thing as absolutes or absolute truth.”
    We can’t say for certain that there aren’t absolutes, but neither can we say that there are.

    Presented Argument: “Truth cannot be known, and no one has the truth.”
    Real Argument: “Truth may be unknowable.”
    We can’t say for certain that we can’t know absolutes, but neither can we say we can.

    Truth is: accurate description of or correspondence with reality.
    By all accounts of scientific knowledge, first-hand experience, and consensus reality most of the miracles in the bible (transforming water into wine and the spontaneous creation of loaves and fishes, for example) are contrary to truth according to this definition.

    1. Sam

      Thanks for your reply. You may be right that apologists popularize these arguments, but please allow me to address your others.

      You say: “we can’t say for certain that there aren’t absolutes, but neither can we say that there are.”
      My reply: You say that very certainly, as if it is an absolute.

      You say: “Truth may be unknowable.”
      My reply: Since you leave room for the possibility (“May”), then I affirm that it is indeed knowable (certainty). If one attempts to prove me wrong by contradiction, then he has proven my originally presented argument was correctly stated.

      You say: “by all accounts of scientific knowledge…etc.”
      My Reply: “please see my argument on empiricism”

      1. Sorry, I meant to say. “We may not be able to say for certain that there aren’t absolutes.”

        Your reply: “Since you leave room for the possibility (“May”), then I affirm that it is indeed knowable (certainty). If one attempts to prove me wrong by contradiction, then he has proven my originally presented argument was correctly stated.” This doesn’t follow. You can affirm something all you want, but that doesn’t overcome the possibility that truth may be unknowable.

        If you disagree with my last statement, then you must have a very different method to ascertain what it real. How do you objectively and absolutely determine what is real?

  2. Sam

    You say: “We MAY NOT BE ABLE to say for certain that there aren’t any absolutes.”

    My Reply: Now you have switched the argument from defining the nature of truth/absolutes to questioning the ability of humans to say anything certain regarding the matter. So, since you were able to say something certain regarding the matter just now, then we must be able. : )

    Secondly, let me unpack my above reply to your having said, “Truth may be unknowable.”

    If truth may be unknowable, then your use of “may” leaves open the possibility to reply with, “Truth may not be unknowable.” Since two negations can be reduced to one positive, then a more efficient way to reply is: “Truth may be knowable,” which is what I affirmed. Truth INDEED may be knowable. This is a simple affirmation of the possibility you allow. The statement expresses certainty regarding the possibility of truth’s ability to be known. My subsequent point was: if someone simply contradicts my affirmation that truth indeed CAN BE known, then he is forced to state his position as “Truth cannot be known, and no one has the truth,” which is the way I originally presented the argument…So, as it turns out, my “Presented Argument” needed no correction after all. : )

      1. Sam

        http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/can_4

        The above link from Cambridge Dictionaries Online shows the validity of using “can” (modal) to indicate possibility, and I add that it especially applies in describing state of being.

        I maintain that in this case may and can are interchangeable. According to the British Council, “We use modal verbs to show if we believe something is certain, probable or possible (or not). We also use modals to do things like talking about ability, asking permission making requests and offers, and so on.”

        See also http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs/modal-verbs and http://www.englishpage.com/modals/modalintro.html

        Will you concede? Will you now come to the Truth, Jesus Christ? It is a matter of the will, you know.

  3. Of course, I won’t concede. In your usage of the word “can” you are saying that “truth can be known.” This is a positive statement of certainty. I am saying “Truth may or may not be able to be known.” which is a statement of possibility. You illustrated this yourself by admitting that your statement the “truth can be known” has a contradicting alternative the “truth can not be know.”

    My statement “truth may or may not be able to be known” has no contrary alternative statement, in that it already contains both of the binary possibilities “may” or “may not.”

  4. Listen, if you really think the truth might not be knowable, then you are using “can” as just a possibility and I’ll concede. From your writing I get the impression that you think the truth is knowable, in which case your last comment seems dishonest.

    1. Sam

      To summarize:

      You say: “Truth may or may not be able to be known.” Put apart, we have two options of possibility:

      1. Truth may be able to be known
      2. Truth may not be able to be known

      Now, you have stated this set in many ways, one of which was: “Truth may be unknowable.” I responded to this by exploiting your statement of negative possibility with its positive, “Truth may not be unknowable.” This equivocates by the principle of double negation to the positive statement: “Truth may be knowable.” And, based on the definition of modal verbs (and the common sense usage), that is the same as saying, “Truth can be knowable.”

      I realize I wrote, “Truth can be known,” at one point, and please excuse me, as I should have written, “Truth can be knowable.” I trust that since I allowed your self-correction, you’ll extend me the same courtesy.

      However, please review the above. I never said I think the truth might not be knowable. I only ever replied to your assertion that ‘truth may be unknowable’ by postulating what your assertion allows–that ‘truth may be knowable.’

      Do you concede that truth may be knowable? I anticipate your answer is: “yes, but it may not be knowable”… which leads me to how I should have responded all along:

      The only thing you really establish is uncertainty. Are you ready to admit your uncertainty? If you should say “no one can be certain of absolutes/truth,” then I reply, “Your statement is formed as an absolute, which is self-defeating.”

  5. As you guessed, my answer is: “yes, but it may not be knowable.”

    I admit my uncertainty, I have from the start. However, I wouldn’t say “no one can be certain of absolutes/truth” only that “we may not be able to be certain of absolutes/truth.”

    1. Sam

      Since you admit your uncertainty, then my reply must be: Whoever is uncertain about a matter should not expect to be seen as having anything definitive to say. That is, the uncertain should not be taken seriously.

      And, since you are uncertain, why do you resist persuasion? That is, why do you hold the uncertain as a defensible position? It is irrational and intellectually dishonest to defend uncertainty. If you say, “It is pride/narrow-mindedness to be certain about truth/absolutes,” then I must reply with: “That is a very narrow and absolute statement about truth/absolutes. Are you certain it is the truth?”

      But, since you say, “we may not be able…,” you have switched the argument from the knowability of truth itself to questioning the ability of humanity to know truth. I reply as I did further up, with: “you were able to make a truth statement just now,” and I add, “you were even able to make a statement of uncertainty, which begs the question of our ability to make statements of certainty. In any case, are you certain about your statement?

      You see, any uncertain statement about the nature of truth can be found self-defeating, since the truth is by definition exclusive and authoritative.

      Knowing this, are you ready to come to the acknowledgment of the Truth–Jesus Christ?

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