Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In favor of absolute truth when we discover it

After some comments made at the last Sabbath School Class I attended I thought I would delve into the subject of “absolute truth”. First here is a statement from the most recent Adventist Today Fall 2009 Seven Questions for…Doug Batchelor by Marcel Schwantes, page 28:

“Theology students will lose their fervor only if they sit under professors who have lost theirs. If professors teach with a perspective that there is no absolute truth or that everything is relative, they cannot produce a crop of pastors who preach with authority and conviction. A mist in the seminary will produce a fog in the church. Jesus taught with conviction and authority (Matt. 7:28-29). Thankfully, there are still some good higher education options with this caliber of professors.”

I use the quote from Doug Batchelor not because it is a well thought out remark because it is not, but because it is very common for Christians to assert that there is absolute truth. I also assert there is absolute truth, however knowing what is absolute truth is the problem. In Batchelor’s comment he asserts that there are professors who teach that there is no absolute truth. That may of course be true of some professors but if they did teach that than they would be teaching a logical fallacy on several levels. The most common explanation goes like thissince saying that there are no absolute truths - that it is absolutely true that no absolute truth exists - is itself an absolute truth.” It is hard to imagine a professor being soundly rebuked continuing to say there is no absolute truth. It would be just as much of a problem if they were to go about saying that everything was relative. Again if everything was relative their statement would be in the form of an absolute truth (everything is relative). The reality of life is that we should seldom use absolutes such as everything or nothing because so often there really are exceptions. In mathematics since it is already based upon logic and definitions it is much easier to use absolutes. For instance saying that no square is a circle is pretty safe because the definitions prevent one thing from being another thing. When you have solid agreed upon definitions you are again pretty safe to use absolutes, no cat is a dog.

So we see that humanly speaking there are actually absolute truths, those are usually based upon widespread agreement between most all people accepting a definition or a formula as representing reality. What if someone rejects the statement? For example we say that it is absolutely true that man has landed upon the moon. Whether they choose to believe the evidence does not change the absolute truth, because man really has landed upon the moon. Still “According to the July 1999 Gallup poll, only about 6% of the American public buys into that conspiracy theory,” that the moon landing was a fake.

So we can say that absolute truth is not dependent upon anyone actually accepting that something is absolutely true. For a variety of reasons like ignorance or prejudice or some other theory to explain something an absolute truth may be disbelieved. This is where we get into difficulties. Do our particular prejudices or beliefs interfere with ascertaining what is or is not absolute truth? One site on the subject puts it this way:

Many religions contain absolute truths. For example, a Christian might say, “ I know Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. By following his teachings, I will live in heaven when I die.” To the Christian this may be an absolute truth. Imposing this statement on others is where this absolute truth, to the Christian, becomes debated. While many may agree that the Christian believes absolutely that Jesus is his Lord, they are unlikely to agree that Jesus is everyone's Lord is an absolute truth. When a person’s absolute truth is extended to all others, it can be viewed as a philosophical statement of exclusion. Those who do not endorse the absolute truth of another are either pitied or attacked.

As with the case of someone not believing an absolute truth it is equally if not more probable for some to believe because of their tradition or upbringing or prejudice that what they believe is an absolute truth. As we have seen however believing or disbelieving does not create an absolute truth or destroy an absolute truth.

In the realm of religion this leaves us in the position of not really being able to declare much as absolute truths. We don’t have the reality of mathematics or of comparison of concrete defined items; we are dealing with beliefs and philosophical ideas and interpretations of others thoughts and ideas. That creates a much larger gray area of information, how we apply what information we have and how we even determine the information in the first place will have an effect upon what is thought or not thought to be an absolute truth.

So indeed there is such a thing as absolute truth, but the truth about absolute truth is we likely do not know what much of the absolute truth really is. Even stories in the Bible often tend to point out the relative nature of truth against those who have falsely determined that they have absolute truth. For example David eating the Shewbread or Jesus performing miracles on the Sabbath. It is possible that more damage is done by those who think they have absolute truth than by those who say that truth is relative to a situation. Jesus was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death all without the Pharisees becoming unclean by being at the Pilate s house and then they hurried home to keep the Sabbath.

1 comment:

Al said...

Absolute truth can be argued to exist by philosophical constructs but the greater question is: What are these truths? It would seem only God would be able to share them because only God know everything.