Episode 3 - Do We Determine What's True?

Is there truth in the world or only in us? Is science the only source of truth? What are the consequences of a view where individuals determine what's true about murder, rape, and more?




Hello, and welcome to Unapologetic, a podcast about defending, not apologizing for, our Christian convictions. In subsequent weeks, we're about to embark on a journey of looking at the truthfulness of the Bible; how can we establish its truthfulness and how can we defend it. But before we do that, we need to actually talk about...truth!

(0:25) Truth is so foundational and it's something that most of us just take for granted. However, in order for the Bible to be true, truth has to exist and it has to be knowable. In order for morality to exist and be something that we can actually say, "it's wrong to murder, it's wrong to rape," well truth has to exist. It has to be true, it has to reflect reality when we make those claims, in order for them to have any meaning at all. So that's why we're going to talk about truth today.

(0:52) Now, there are two views of truth. The first is one of subjective truth. You'll notice that the main part of the word subjective is subject, and this is actually a claim about a person, a subject. And it expresses something that's only true for that person. A great example of a subjective truth claim would be the best flavor of ice-cream. So, you could ask someone, "what is the best flavor of ice-cream", and they would hopefully tell you chocolate moose tracks from Publix: that's the best flavor of ice-cream. That's my favorite and best flavor, I'll say that. Now here's the thing: it sounds like the person is talking about the ice-cream when they say it's the best. However, they're actually talking about themselves. They're talking about their opinions, their feelings, their preferences.

(1:42) Now, that's all fine and good when you're talking about ice-cream, but some people have this same view of truth, that it's subjective, it's just about me and what I think, when it comes to issues of morality or religion. And I hope you can see just right off the bat, that's a dangerous position to be in. Because on a subjective view of truth, every individual decides what's right and wrong for themselves. And this leads to something called relativism.

(2:09) So the main part of the word subjective is subject, it's about a person, a subject; the main part of the word relativism is relative. And relativism is the view that all truth claims are relative to the person making them. So when someone would say, "rape is wrong", on a subjective view of truth, it sounds like they're talking about the rape in the same way it sounded like I was talking about the ice-cream earlier. However, they're not really talking about the rape, they're talking about their feelings about the rape. "I feel that rape is wrong." But the rape itself is not actually wrong on this veiw. 

(2:47) Now, that's a quick summary of subjective truth. Now on the other side, we have objective truth. And this would be truth that corresponds with reality. It's truth, you could say, that's matched with its object. Subjective truth was about a subjective person; objective truth is about an object. And objective truth is true for all people, in all places, at all times, to whom the claim applies.

(3:13) So here's an example of an objective truth claim. Gravity pulls objects together. That has nothing to do with my feelings, my preferences, or any of that. It's a statement about reality. Another example would be, I am male. It doesn't matter if someone else doesn't think I'm male, that in no way changes my sex. Or we could say that Barack Obama is the president of the United States. Or George Washington was a president of the United States. These are both examples of objective truth claims. 

(3:46) I want to give you a quick comparison of objective versus subjective truth, just to put them right next to each other. So, subjective truth is neither true or false. Objective is either true or false. You can't be wrong about the best flavor of ice-cream. You can be wrong about who the president is, if that puts it into perspective. So, subjective truth can't be wrong, objective truth can be wrong. A subjective truth claim is about feelings. And an objective truth claim is about things or objects. 

(4:21) Here's an example to help maybe make this even more obvious. In the sport of baseball, you have umpires. And they're job is to, one of their jobs, is to say if a ball is a ball or a strike. So the pitcher pitches the ball, it comes across the plate, and there's a zone that that ball has to be in in order for it to be what's called a strike (if the batter doesn't hit it, that is). Now here's the thing; an umpire can say, "I call them as I see them, so the pitcher pitches the ball, and I just call it as I see it. It either goes across the plate or it doesn't." Or he could say, "they're nothing until I call them." Which one of those seems subjective to you? And which one seems objective? "I call them as I see them," or "they're nothing until I call them"?

(5:06) Well on the first one, "I call them as I see them," the umpire is saying, "I am simply recognizing some feature of reality. The ball is either in the zone to be a strike or it's not." However, on the second one, "they're nothing until I call them," he's saying that he determines the truthfulness of where the ball is, of what the type of pitch was. You see the danger there, if we apply this to any other area besides baseball? If we determine the truthfulness of some other external claim in the world, then there can be as many different truths as there are people who believe them. And this is very dangerous. So a subjective truth claim is just true for me, but an objective truth claim is true for everyone. 

(5:53) Quickly, I want to give you some categories of objective truth. There are historical events; they either happened for everyone or they didn't. George Washington can't have just been a president for someone and not for another. Now that doesn't mean that everyone has had George Washington as a president. What I mean is the fact that George Washington was a president is true for everyone. Math and empirical sciences, those are examples of objective truth; they're statements about reality. 

(6:21) Now these last two categories are debated today: ethics and morals and religions. Many people would say that ethics and religions and morality, all of that, that's just subjective, it's up to us to determine. However, there is one really large problem with this. Moral claims, at least on a Christian worldview, aren't simply statements of preference. They don't just describe my likes or dislikes. Because Christianity, at its base, is an historical truth claim. The Resurrection, that event, that death, burial and rising to life of Jesus, who was God, is central to Christianity. And that's an historical type of claim. It's the same type of claim as saying George Washington was a president of the United States. 

(7:10) So, if Christianity is based on an historical claim, well then we can't say that Christianity is subjective in that way, can we? It's either true or false, either Jesus lived a perfect life, was crucified and resurrected, or He wasn't. That is the type of thing that you could be wrong about. It's not just a preference. So that is why this is important.

(7:35) Now, we're going to examine some common claims of culture today, but before we do, I want to teach you something that you probably already know. And that would be the Law of Non-Contradiction. And now you might be thinking, "well I'm not sure that I know that", but you actually do. The Law of Non-Contradiction is one of the three or four fundamental laws of logic, and here is all it says: "a thing cannot be what it is and what it is not at the same time and in the same way."

(8:02) For example, it can't be sunny outside and not sunny outside at the same time and in the same way at the same place. So an example of how you just innately know this: your son says he's going to spend the night at a friend's house and yet when you and your husband are out on a date, you see him at the movies. And you ask him the next day, "where were you last night?" "I was at my friend's house." Without even thinking about, "I'm going to apply one of the Laws of Logic", you know that he can't have both been at his friend's house and the movie theater. He can't have been in the same place at the same time in the same way. Or at those two different places, that is. 

(8:40) Now, the Law of Non-Contradiction can be very helpful in helping to deal with some of the pervasive claims in our culture today. For instance, what about the claim "there is no truth"? Well, in order for such a claim to be true...truth would have to exist. In order for it to be true that there is no truth, truth must be an actual thing. It can't be true that there is no truth if there's no truth. And what's even kind of more amusing is that the person who says this intends to communicate something to you that they believe is true. 

(9:15) Now what about a similar claim? "You can't know truth." Once again, I'm fairly certain that the person who makes this claim is trying to communicate something to you that they think reflects reality. They're claiming to know something, they're claiming to know that you can't know things. These types of contradictions are called self-refuting or self-contradictory statements. And we don't hold self-contradictory statements as part of our belief systems. We're not going to say I think you can know that you can't know things. That's self-refuting. 

(9:47) Well here's one that's maybe a little more practical. "You shouldn't judge." This is not just said in Christian circles, it's said in the world all too often too. Now, there are a few things that we can say about this. The first would be that the Bible doesn't actually support this position, that we shouldn't judge other people. In a previous episode, we talked about Matthew 7, how it says, "don't judge lest ye be judged" and it basically goes on to talk about  not judging hypocritically. And this should be all the more obvious because just a few verses later, Jesus tells us to be on the lookout for false teachers. And in order to call someone a false teacher, you have to make a moral judgement. They're either right or wrong, they're doing something correct or incorrect. So whatever interpretation we come up with for Matthew 7, it can't make Jesus just seem like He's spouting nonsense a few verses later when He tells us to judge. 

(10:36) However, there's an even easier way to deal with this statement, that "you shouldn't judge." Someone's going to say, "you shouldn't have done that, you shouldn't judge other people". Well, what has such a person just done? They've told you you were wrong; they've judged you. All too often, the people who say you shouldn't judge do so while they're judging you. This is an example of a self-refuting statement, it's like saying, "I can't speak a word of English". "There are no English sentences longer than three words." It's just nonsense. 

(11:09) What about the claim, "all truth is relative"? Well, is that a relative truth? Because if it is, if it only pertains to the person who said it, then why should I ascribe any worth to that statement at all? 

(11:23) Here's perhaps one of the biggest statements that we have to deal with today as Christians. In some form or fashion, it goes like this: "only science can give us truth." Well here’s the question, is that a scientific truth? If the only types of truths that exist are scientific truths, well then, that would include this actual statement, "only science can give us truth," because there's no lab experiment that can be done to determine that. And in fact, if you use science to prove science, that's circular reasoning, that's like saying, "I trust the Bible because it's the Word of God and I know it's the Word of God because the Bible says it." So, it leads to a logical fallacy called begging the question. So we can't say that only science can give us truth. There's no laboratory experiment done that could determine that, and more than that, that statement is actually a philosophical claim, not a scientific one.

(12:26) The last statement we're going to look at today is, "you shouldn't force your morality on people." Now there's nothing wrong necessarily with holding this view. It's not supported by the Bible or a Christian worldview, but you could hold this view and not be in hot water with regards to contradicting yourself. But as soon as you try to apply this to other people, and you try to say, "you're wrong, you shouldn't force your morality on other people," what have you just done? You've forced your morality on someone! It's your moral view that you shouldn't force your morality on other people, and you're trying to make sure other people follow your moral view. 

(13:01) So, understanding truth is very important. I've given you one simple test to weed out bad truth claims. Ok, this law of Non-Contradiction, something you innately know, but maybe would not have thought of to apply to some of the more popular statements of culture today. 

(13:16) One other point I want to make: if there's no truth, then no book written by an Atheist can be true either. And what's very amusing to me, is quite a few Atheists, and just general non-Christians, have taken to writing books saying, "there's no such thing as truth." Well gosh, why are they trying to charge people $20 for their hardback book that contains no truth? If there isn't any truth, then nothing they wrote is true! What are they trying to do, that's some type of scam, isn't it? Charging people for something that doesn't exist? No, what I actually think is happening is these authors are just caught within a contradictory worldview. They say there's no truth, and yet they want to communicate this to other people because they actually believe it's true, somehow they haven't worked through that. But we should not hold contradictory viewpoints as part of our belief systems.

(14:08) In future weeks we're going to talk about the Bible, and truth is a fundamental concept for understanding Scripture, and for understanding how to communicate that to other people. So I hope you'll be a little more equipped after today to apply this law of Non-Contradiction, to understand and identify when someone is simply making a subjective truth claim, or an objective truth claim. Are they talking about themselves or are they talking about an object? If someone just believes in a subjective view of truth and they say that murder is wrong, well then on their view, it could be ok for you to kill them. It would be wrong for them, but if someone else murdered, well they can't say that's wrong, because they're just talking about their opinions or their preferences. No misunderstandings: I'm not saying murder is good. Just to clarify. But, such a person who has a subjective view of truth can't tell you it's wrong, actually. And this is one of the very large weaknesses of a worldview that contains a subjective view of truth. 

(15:08) Well thanks for joining me on Unapologetic today. I hope you'll tune in next week as we talk about the Bible.