Friday, June 29, 2007

What is Truth?

I was talking with a friend the other day, and he said something like, "When someone says they have the Truth, it's time to get scared." He said this because of two reasons:

1. It's just not possible to know what is true; we all have pieces of the truth, but not enough to achieve certainty - especially in the area of religion.

2. Those who think they have the truth usually try to impose their version of the truth on others. This can be demonstrated in numerous ways, from the Taliban to the Crusades.

I'd like to share my answer to him and some further thoughts on this important topic.

I told my friend that truth - by its very nature - is divisive. Something cannot be both true and not true at the same time and in the same way. So, for example, there either is a God or there is not a God. You can't have it both ways. In logic, this is a truth known as the Law of Non-Contradiction. Logic is one way that we can know certain truths.

To a large extent, I actually agree with my friend's second point. Many people want to impose their beliefs on others. This fact is not limited to those with religious faith - even secular humanists try to impose their will on society. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot each attempted to create a religion-free society. In the West today, those who embrace the idea of Relativism (that all truth is relative; that people must determine subjectively what is true for them, and be tolerant of other people's "truth"), attempt to change laws they find objectionable.

This is not the place to respond to Relativism, but I'll simply point out that it is logically self-defeating. The statement: "All truth is relative" is absolute. If ALL truth is relative, that necessarily includes the statement itself, in which case NOT ALL truth is relative. Thus, the basic tenet of Relativism is both true and not true at the same time and in the same way. This is a violation of the Law of Non-Contradiction.

Regarding Christians that have tried to impose their beliefs on others, such as during the Crusades, one simply has to ask if they were acting according to the teachings of Jesus? The answer is an emphatic "No." There is no Biblical justification for spreading Jesus' message by violence or even political activism. The focus is on personal witnessing (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15). Thus, while some people calling themselves "Christians" may have used violent means to enforce their beliefs on others, the root-cause is not the tenets of Christianity, but their own pride and lust for power. In other words, what the Bible calls "Sin."

In my previous posts on Significant Faith, I tried to explain how faith in God can be based in fact. God has given ample evidence for His existence through His Creation. But I also stressed that, ultimately, assenting to the truth of that evidence involves not only drawing one's own conclusions, but also the active work of God in our hearts.

In his book, Reasonable Faith, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig draws a distinction between "knowing" something is true and "showing" something is true. We can know something is true, ultimately, because God lives in us and reveals it to us; but we can show it is true to someone else because our faith is based on knowledge - on facts and logic - that can be demonstrated to be true.

Here's how Craig explains it:

"My friend, I know Christianity is true because God's Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. And you can know it is true, too, because God is knocking at the door of your heart, telling you the same thing. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now, to try to show you it's true, I'll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that's my fault, not God's. It only shows that I'm a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue. Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. I'll do my best to present good arguments to you. But ultimately you have to deal, not with arguments, but with God himself'" [William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), p. 48.]

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