Whence Truth? - Truth Defined: Part 4
I apologize for taking so long to get part 4 of this series published. I had been working on other writing projects and this got pushed to the end of the line. But we are back at it and now it is finally time to finish off our explanation of the 9 characteristics of truth as understood biblically. [I realized this week that I absorbed #10 into #3 so this list is now correct.] Here are all of the characteristics we have been working through
Truth is divine and therefore must be revealed to us
Truth is objective
Truth is absolute and authoritative
Truth is singular
Truth is universal and immutable
Truth is eternally engaging
Truth is antithetical and exclusive
Truth is unified and systematic
Truth is an end in itself
We explained 1-7 in the previous two blogs, now it’s time to finish the list by examining 8-10. This blog will be quick although some themes will be repeated. It will be a nice reprieve from the previous lengthy tomes.
8. Truth is unified and systematic
We have noted already that truth is singular. It does not exist as bits and pieces of unrelated data or ideas that don’t hold together. In that sense, truth is coherent - it is consistent with itself. Truth is always in perfect agreement and it never contradicts itself. Truth is always in harmony with everything else it says since each aspect of truth is congruent with the sum of its parts. (Groothius) But, as we also noted earlier, coherence is not the way to define truth. For something to be true it must correspond to external reality.
If we wanted to break it down simply we could say that truth is articular - the truth - rather than simply truth. Truth is one as God is one.
At the very least this means that a pluralistic or relativistic view of truth is not possible. Pluralism says, “We must accept the beliefs of others as equally valid as ours.” Relativism says, “You have your truth and I have mine. And that’s OK.” But as we have seen already, it is not possible for two statements about the same thing to both be true. Thus pluralism and relativism are not possible positions to hold about a proposition. We saw this in our last blog when we examined the law of noncontradiction and the law of excluded middle.
9. Truth is an end in itself
This is a really simple, yet important point. Truth is not a means to an end, it is the end. Truth is to be valued for its own sake. To put it negatively, a statement is not true because it works. A statement is true on its own merits. Because it is true it will work.
This perspective rules out any purely pragmatic definition of truth. We cannot say that “truth is what gets things done” as many postmodern philosophers would argue. (cf Groothius)
When applied to Christianity we could say that “The Christian faith is important because it is true. What it happens to achieve, in ourselves or others, is another, and strictly speaking secondary matter.” (Blamires in Groothius)
Now that we have an understanding of what truth is and what characteristics it possesses we are ready to move into some implications. As we have noted, our culture does not like truth claims. It abhors the view of truth that the Bible demands. It prefers that people not be dogmatic or absolute and instead we accepting and welcoming of what people feel or think. So we need to come to a clear understanding of how the Christian view of truth plays out in our world. We have touched on some of these things already, but I think it is important to deal with two specific objections to the Christian view of truth - critical theory and tolerance. We can sum them up with two statements:
“One is not born, but rather becomes, woman” (Simone de Beauvoir) - how I identify determines what is true (critical theory)
“Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy, and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism” (United Nations, Declaration of Principles of Tolerance) - toleration is the highest virtue
These are, at the moment, the two biggest threats to the way the church thinks about truth and they are quite insidious because on their face they appeal to pseudo-Christian virtues of love, humility, grace, patience, gentleness, and kindness. We will deal with each one in its own separate blog.
Soli Deo Gloria