Truth & evidences series: Is there absolute truth?

Thanks for all the comments on last week’s “truth and evidences” post! I really enjoy and appreciate your feedback, thoughts and responses. :)

So, last week we talked about how truth itself is not a matter of faith, but rather our faith should be based on what we learn to be the truth. This week I want to pose these two questions to consider:
Does absolute truth even exist? Aren’t we just supposed to be open minded and tolerant?

First: Does absolute truth even exist?
This is something which in our society today seems to be highly questioned. Is there such a thing as absolute truth? Is everything, including truth, just relative?

Somehow these questions largely seem to come up in matters of morals and religion, not in everyday life. If you ask your spouse, “Do you have an umbrella?” you don’t expect the answer to be, “Well it depends, since it’s all just relative and there is no one truth on the matter.” No, we expect that there is one answer that is the truth. Either you have an umbrella, or you don’t. But when it comes to matters or religion or morals, people seem much more likely to say, “Well, it depends, since it’s all relative and there is no one truth about it.” Is that a common answer because there is no such thing truth – or because it feels more comfortable to answer that way? We need to establish that choosing to not believe something doesn’t make truth cease to exist.

I want to point out the difference between belief and truth. The truth exists independent of whether there is belief or not. (For instance, the world was round, even when everyone thought it was flat.) Truth doesn’t change when belief changes. (The world didn’t change to being round when people started believing it was round.) Being good and sincere in a belief does not make it necessarily the truth. (I’m sure there were good people who sincerely thought the world was flat.) There can be any number of beliefs, which may vary for any number of reasons. Someone could believe the world was a triangle, or that the world was sitting on the shoulders of a giant, or that it just stretched on forever, if they wanted to. But just because they believed it would not make it true – and it also would not mean that the truth does not exist on the topic. Truth exists independent of whether someone believes it. Any number of beliefs may exist, but that does not mean they are all true.

But for the sake of argument, for the moment, let’s just say there’s no such thing as absolute truth.
Ok, ready?
“There’s no such thing as absolute truth.”

But, wait, there is already a problem.

If you say there is no such thing as absolute truth … is that absolutely true? If so, then you’re contradicting yourself and disproving your point because you’re claiming something doesn’t exist by giving an example of it existing. Or if it’s not absolutely true .. then it’s not aboslutely true, and absolute truth does exist. It’s a self contradictory stance.

The same goes for other similar arguments: “You can’t know truth.” (Then how do you know that?) “Truth does not exist.” (Then is that statement not true?) “Truth is simply relative.” (Is that just a relative truth as well?) “You can’t say one thing is more true than anything else.” (So is what you’re claiming no more true than the opposite – that some things are more true than others?) Truth exists – to even claim otherwise is a contradiction of its own viewpoint.

“But this all sounds very narrow, to say there is absolute truth. Aren’t we all just supposed to be open minded and tolerant?”

These are phrases (open minded and tolerant) which get thrown around so much, I’m afraid they’ve started to lose their meaning! Let’s look at them one at a time, because they are two different items.

Yes, we should be open minded! And before you read any farther – why is it that we should be open minded? Stop and think about it for a second. Isn’t it so that we don’t continue to believe something that is false? So that when we learn something is the truth, we will accept it and not be closed minded to it? For instance, I remember when I was a kid, I thought that your belly button was actually a button you could push to make yourself hungry and make room for seconds. (HA!) When I got older, I discovered that was not the truth. If I had not accepted that truth, I would have been extremely closed minded. I was open minded, and when I realized I was wrong, I changed my belief in the matter. But now suppose that as an adult, I told you that I wouldn’t say whether the belly button was actually a button to push to make room for seconds, or whether it was not, or even if there was a truth about it at all – because I was choosing to stay open minded on the subject. Is that really what open minded means? Should we stay “open minded” about whether the earth is round or flat? The whole point of being open minded is to recognize that our beliefs can be wrong – not that truth doesn’t exist. We stay open minded so that we can recognize the truth when we see it.

But what about being tolerant? What does it mean to be tolerant? Does being tolerant mean that truth does not exist? Actually, to be “tolerant” of something implies there is a difference – if nothing was actually true or false, then there would be no difference. If you tell me the world is round, I’m not “tolerating” your statement, I agree with it. Tolerating is when there is a difference of belief, not a difference of truth. To tolerate someone’s belief is completely different than to be forced to admit their belief is equally true. Again, that’s not tolerating, that’s agreeing. I have actually heard of a group of people in modern time who do believe the earth is flat. Should I be vicious and punch them or throw bricks in their windows because I disagree with them? Obviously not! But does being tolerant mean I have to accept that there is no truth on whether the earth is round or flat? Not at all. In fact, to claim that we should be so “tolerant” of everything to the point that we actually agree with everyone is not tolerant at all. Because you don’t have to tolerate something you already agree with – you just agree with it. Then the one thing left to disagree with is someone who holds that absolute truth does exist. Will they “tolerate” that? No, it is the very thing they are arguing against. So the one thing that they disagree with is the one thing they won’t “tolerate”, if tolerating really means to agree with it everything.

Yes, we should be kind and respect the fact that others have different beliefs. But that does not mean that truth does not exist. And, in fact, being kind sometimes involves pointing out the truth to someone. If I was driving a car in England, and didn’t realize they drove on the other side of the road, I wouldn’t want the passengers to just “tolerate” or be “open minded” about my driving – I would want them to correct me! No, I wouldn’t want to be cussed out or abused, but when done properly, having someone point out the truth is not unloving – in fact, in can be the very opposite.

So to sum up: Contradicting beliefs may exists, but that does not mean truth does not exist. The existence of truth is not dependent on belief. Truth exists – to claim otherwise is self contradictory. Being tolerant and open minded are both reactions to different beliefs, they do not mean that truth does not exist.

Leave you thoughts and comments below. :)

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7 Comments

  1. Kathy
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Very well said and written!

  2. Amelia
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Hi again April, firstly oh wow you live in London – Kentucky – how super!!! I know which London I’d rather be in, it’s cold and rainy here xx
    What a fantastic description on truth and belief, how true that is. How blessed to ‘know The Truth and not just to believe it, I LOVE your descriptive examples..Thank you.
    We can’t approach God demanding justice for our ‘belief’ whatever that maybe, we can only come pleading for mercy.
    ‘What the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son…’ Romans 8:3

    • Posted June 13, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Haha, maybe we should trade places sometime then, I’ve always wanted to go to England! :)

      Great point that we can’t demand anything from God, so true. And yet he gives us so much! What a blessing. :)

  3. Kristen Fondon
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    God is definitley working! The topic of the university bible study I’m involved with discussed “truth and reality” last night in our summer study on Foundations of Apologetics. We looked into aspects of Truth: non contradictory, absolute, discovered, descriptive, inescapable, and unchanging, and why these ALL have to be characteristics of Truth. A question we were left with is “do you really believe that what you believe is really real?”. The discussion and video session was challenging and great to make me think about my faith and grow my relationship with God stronger. Its important that I consider that some individuals do consider truth to be relative and how it is contradictory to absolutely and truly believe that. Like you mentioned, its so important in the way we present this idea to anyone who believes that truth is relative, because we are called to witness to people, sharing Gods love (without our own emotions/frustrations getting in the way of that). Thanks for posting this! I was so shocked and excited to see it this morning after our study on it last night!

  4. Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    great thoughts once again; enjoyed reading.

  5. Posted June 15, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    hi April!
    a very interesting post, (as always)… and really appreciate your example: they’re make so easy to understand what you mean!
    oh, and i love the balloon ^^ !

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