Thursday, November 20, 2014

CCS SLEW - "What Is The Difference Between Objective and Subjective Truth?"

One of the most challenging and frustrating topics you will encounter when dealing with the average person in the street is the concept of truth and its implications -- especially when the discussion includes moral truth. The problem is that the concept of truth lies at the core of a biblical worldview. Jesus said he was "the way, the truth, and the life [and that] no one goes to the Father except through him." He says not only that He is truth, but that He "came to testify to the truth" about the way the world really works.

It seems like truth is pretty important stuff. Yet the world tells us that truth is either up to us to decide individually, or that groups (communities) get together and agree about what they decide to be the truth.

It doesn't take much thought to see that the biblical view of truth and the cultural view of truth don't go well together. We need to understand why and this short video from J. Warner Wallace does a great job of illustrating the differences.


Now that you've watched the video, let me share another observation that I have found very helpful in clarifying the nature of objective truth and the way it gets abused in the culture:

Truth is a property of propositions

Certainty is a property of persons

Think about this and internalize it. When someone makes a statement about the way the world is, if that statement describes the world correctly, it is true. If it does not describe the world correctly, it is false. These types of things are called "propositions."

1) The Earth revolves around the Sun.
2) The Sun revolves around the Earth.

These are both propositions about the way the world is. Many people used to think 2) was true. Now we know that 2) is false and that 1) is true. Nothing changed in the actual world, we just gained more information and found the truth. It is not arrogant to tell someone who believes 2) that she is "wrong." It is loving. We want to know and represent the truth about things.

Remember this when someone accuses you of being arrogant because you claim that Christianity is true. As long as you have good reasons for doing so, anyone one can disagree with you, but what they can't do is call you "arrogant" for saying so. Please note that this depends not only on how you make your statement, but on whether you have a reasonable case to support what you're saying. The key is to focus on the proposition itself.

To continue the example, Ptolemy was a guy who insisted that 2) was true. He was certain about it, and so was most everyone else. Then Copernicus and Galileo came along, measured the real world more accurately, and found that 2) was false but 1) was true.

The point is that we can be absolutely certain about something that is absolutely false. Likewise, we can have little or no certainty about something that ends up being absolutely true. Don't mix up truth and certainty. We have to be willing to consider why we believe the propositions we claim to believe. Certainty doesn't make anyone's proposition right. Evidence from the real world does that.

Moral Truth

The more difficult issue seems to be when we wander into areas of moral truth. But remember, all the same rules still apply. Moral truth depends on whether what we believe matches the way the world really is. Certainty and truth are still different. The only thing that changes is that you are more likely to challenge someone to be accountable to an objective standard (like God) and to stop justifying their actions that reject that standard. People don't like that. They will call you arrogant and "judgmental." It becomes difficult to find the courage to stand up for moral truth when this happens but stand we must because violating moral truth has consequences ... and they can be very ugly.

Think of it as having a friend standing on a railroad track when you see a train approaching. Would it be loving to tell them, "I don't want to be judgmental about where you choose to stand. I wouldn't stand there, but that's up to you I guess."

No, that wouldn't be loving at all. The only loving thing to do is insist that they get off the tracks and to help them do so -- quickly. We have to stand up for moral truth with gentleness and respect. We have to do it the right way. We have to look in the mirror when we do so. We have to find and defend the right moral standard. This is rarely easy but always necessary. No one said it would be easy.

But sometimes the most loving and difficult thing to do is to tell someone the truth ...

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