top of page

What is truth?

What is truth? Is there even such a thing? Is what's true for you also true for me?. These questions, which would have seemed ludicrous a few centuries ago, have become central in an age where truth has become relativised. Without even touching on the ridiculous subjectivity of “fake news” and “alternative facts” put out by politicians, it’s fair to say that truth has become subjective. To argue for the superiority of one position over another, especially in areas of societal norms and belief systems, is to be branded “intolerant” or bigoted. How dare someone hold to the idea that their way alone is “right” and that there is some kind of exclusivity to truth? If history wasn’t taken into account, it could be assumed that the current relativistic pluralism is in some way a progression from naivety and altogether a superior social evolutionary trend.

But history shows that it is one more case of action and reaction. In medieval times, in Western society, truth was determined by authority, and that authority was the Roman Catholic Church. As the excesses and faults of that system became evident and the Bible became more readily available, from the seedbed of the Renaissance of science, art and learning sprang the Protestant reformation. The value of the individual and the individual’s opinion was recognised as the new wave of humanism spread. The authority of the institution of the Church under the Papacy was replaced in many circles by the authority of the Bible as interpreted by human reason. Not everyone drew the same conclusions when reason was applied to the Bible, and that led to wars and schisms. Instead of agreeing to differ, people with strongly held opinions sought to destroy each other. In reaction to this, humanism took a different path. The French Revolution was not only a rejection of the Ancien Regime but a triumph of humanism and human reason. In company with scientific developments it became possible for people to reject the idea of a God altogether, or at least consign him to an irrelevant role.

People began to believe that humanity would eventually know all there is to know and, unencumbered by religion and its constraints, solve all our problems. Humanity would be its own saviour, God is irrelevant, humans can do anything by the power of reason. Such was the optimism of the industrial age. Two world wars and a century of technological empowerment of human evil later, it was obvious this wasn’t the case. Scientific and rational thinking did not save humanity, it only brought it closer to destruction. So now we see a rejection of science in a growing part of the political and social spectrum. The concept of definable truth is being rejected. The reaction against reason is relativism and pluralism. Sick of all the horrors of wars fought over “truth,” we have redefined truth to be whatever we want it to be, and shunned the idea that there can be absolute rights and wrongs. The only absolute wrong left now would seem to be the upholding of discrete rights and wrongs. The only thing we will not tolerate is “intolerance.” To claim any exclusive truth is to invite condemnation. We are free to reject the authority of reason and science now, in addition to the authority of religion, in favour of the sole authority of our opinions and tastes.

So, if it doesn’t suit me to believe in the value of vaccinations, or in the science of climate change, I can reject them. I don’t see the need for valid arguments. I can create my own truth. Of course, many of us still recoil in horror at this sort of thinking, but the ground on which we stand, a respect for critical thinking and scientific analysis, is shrinking like the plates of ice supporting the remaining polar bears. Intellectualism is seen as a form of elitism and reason is rejected in favour of subjectivity. We do what feels right. What’s true for me is true, and you can’t tell me what to do, because you’re not better than me.

This sort of thinking on a personal and society-wide level is unsustainable, just like all the other modern and post-modern constructs through history. The reason the grand metanarratives of authority have failed in the past and the current pluralist, anti-intellectualism, anti-religion one will fail also, is the same. All rely on human (in)ability. The inability of authoritarian institutions to resist corruption, the inability of humans to agree to differ in non-essentials and work constructively from common ground, our irresitable tendency to take something wholesome like the Bible and make it a weapon, the inability of human reason to not be usurped for evil ends, and the unsustainability of individualism as a foundation for a healthy society. The common factor which weakens any system is human fallibility and selfishness, which the Bible calls sin. Anything we build in human strength, or relying on human integrity, will be a castle built on sand. The only sure foundation for society is something that is not reliant on human strength and human goodness and integrity. It must be a foundation of truth that is beyond human, that is absolute.

There has to be absolute truth. If there were no absolute truth there would be no laws of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology and nothing would exist. It is foolish to think that absolute truth stops at the boundary of what can be empirically measured. That would be the height of audacity, to assume that human conception is the measure of all things. Even though we know a lot more science now than people in the dark ages, and don’t assume that the heaven is a dome above a flat earth, we are still constrained by what we can see, hear and touch with our vast technology. To say that God does not exist because we cannot detect him, is as irrational and primitive an argument as a medieval thinker deciding the earth is the centre of the universe because that was the extent of his science.

If God does exist, then he is an objective truth and that opens up a whole universe of objective truths, which exist irrespective of whether a given individual can see, hear or touch them. Just as the truths of science do not change simply because I choose not to believe them, so the existence of God, if true, does not change because I choose not to believe in him. We cannot define truth exclusively from our own subjective experience. At least, not all “truth.” Once person believes from repeatable experience that coriander is delicious. Another hates it. Both are true. But the absolute truth is not that coriander is objectively “good” or “bad,” but that coriander is objectively a herb that can produce profoundly different sensations in different people, which are interpreted in a context of personal preferences. And at the end of the day, who cares, because coriander doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

But the existence of God does matter. If God exists, and we reject his existence on the basis of our empirical and subjective observations and our preferences, and we are wrong, what then? If God doesn’t exist, and we believe and act as though he does, it will be life changing, hopefully for the better, unless our human sin and greed distorts our application of religion. But if God exists as absolute truth, and we reject him as relative truth, then the consequences are eternal.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page