ppt what_is_truth 576.00 KbNotes and Power Point for a lesson taught at San Diego State University 11/14/2008

What is Truth?

Is Anything True Any more?

John 18:37-38    Jesus:  "I came to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

Pilate:  "What is truth?"

Now that is a good question.  This is the question of epistemology:  How do we know things are true?

The problem as I see it:

1. The secularization of culture-the banishment of religious thought and of ideas of absolute truth and morality from public discourse.

2. The loss of morality-the relativization of moral truth.  The loss of a public and private sense that certain things are just plain wrong or right.

3. The loss of God.  We are at risk of becoming a people for whom God is somewhere in with the ranks of fairies and lepruchans.

4. The loss of the intellectual high ground at the University for belief in God and an ethically-centered point of view.

Example of that Lady in Phoenix       Katie’s teacher

The "enemy:"

1. Naturalism/scientism/materialism.   The only "truth" is that discovered by scientific method.

2.  Postmodernism:  The loss of truth.

Typical arrogant intellectual statement:

Delos B. McKown:

          "Christianity is scientifically unsupported and probably insupportable, philosophically suspect at best and disreputable at worst, and historically fraudulent."

World View:

•u   The perspective one uses to process and interpret information received about the world. 

•u   James W. Sire  "A world view is a set of presuppositions (ie. assumptions) which we hold about the basic makeup of our world."

James W. Sire, TheUniverse Next Door

What makes for a "Good" world view?

First, let us ask what a "good" world view ought to look like?  Is a "good" world view, by definition, one that we like-that we find ourselves naturally agreeing with?  Is it one which creates good physical or emotional health?  Is it the one which creates the greatest amount of human happiness?  Perhaps it is the one which results in the creation of the greatest amount of economic growth and movement away from poverty and political upheaval.  In fact, according to one world view, that of naturalism, there is no such thing as a "good" world view, as all such value judgments are meaningless. 

Qualities of a "good" world view:

1.  It is "true"

There is no virtue and there is very rarely an advantage in being wrong.

"True" = consistent with reality.    Predictions made using that world view will agree with what we know and what we observe.

The Correspondence Theory of Truth. 

If a belief is in clear contradiction with well-established facts about the world, then it is not true. 

Postmodern does not accept the Correspondence Theory of Truth.

2.   It successfully answers the important questions humans ask.

•u   1. What is the prime reality?  (What is the nature of God?)

•u   2. What am I?

•u   3. What happens to a person at death?

•u   4. Why is it possible for us to know anything at all?

•u   5. How do we know what is right and wrong?

•u   6. What is my purpose in life?

•u   7. What is the nature of my relationship, with the "prime reality?"

3.  Those who ascribe to it are better human beings for having taken this as their world view.

Define Scientism:   The belief that the only reliable or valid instrument to deciding the truth or even the value of any proposition is the scientific method.

No ethics, no morality, no supernatural, no God, no truth except that found by science, no consciousness, no "I." Justice is a figment of our imagination.

None of us can accept this.

A sample statement:

Richard Dawkins:

In the universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt and other people are going to get lucky: and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice.  The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good.  Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.  DNA neither knows nor cares.  DNA just is, and we dance to its music.

Thomas Huxley:

We are as much the product of blind forces as is the falling of a stone to earth, or the ebb and flow of the tides.  We have just happened, and man was made flesh by a long series of singularly beneficial accidents.

2. Postmodernism.   The loss of truth.   Truth, if such a thing exists, is the property of culture.  There is no absolute truth.  All truth is relative.    If lying, stealing, murder, genocide are wrong, there is no way to establish this as an absolute.

There is a sense in which postmodernism is a reaction to naturalism.

Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, Copernicus, etc.

These men began with an assumption:   The universe was created by a single, all-powerful, loving unchanging God with the single purpose so that we can live in it and experience a relationship with him.

And thus, science was created.   The Greeks could not discover the laws of Nature because they had an incorrect understanding of Nature.  The physical world is bad.

It is an undeniable fact that belief in the Christian God is the historical and logical foundation for what we now call science.

These are the religious, philosophical underpinning of science.

1. The universe is ordered and essentially unchanging.

2. The universe is observable and understandable.  There is a 1:1 match between how the human mind works and how the universe in which live funcitons.

3. The universe is governed by mathematically precise laws.

Roger Bacon;  To acquire truth about nature, use   "External experience, aided by instruments, made precise by mathematics"

Isaac Newton:

Universal Law of Gravity.  The idea that we live in a mechanical universe.

It seems that God does not commonly intervene in nature doing "supernatural" things

This is how God works in history and in our lives.

18th century:  Naturalism/The Mechanical Universe naturally leads to skepticism. 

Hume:   the ultimate skeptic.

How can we know anything about morality, religion, truth.  Voltaire, Hume and others and the rise of skepticism.   (Was bad Christianity to blame for this?)

19th century.  LaPlace,   Darwin.  Materialism/Modernism appeared triumphant.

20th Century.  Quantum Mechanics questioned the deterministic nature of Nature.

Reason and Logic cannot explain WWI  WWII    Hiroshima.

Scientism appears to be hubris.  Scientism cannot do justice to beauty, art.

The very idea of the rightness of Western culture came into question

(All this was good!!!)

But, intellectuals overreacted (typical)

We got postmodernism.    Postmodernism.  Cultural Relativism.

Response to Scientism.

The Theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and the end-all-that what is not in science textbooks is not worth knowing-is an ideologist with a peculiar and distorted doctrine of his own.  For him, science is no longer a sector of the cognitive enterprise, but an all-inclusive world-view.  This is the doctrine not of science but of scientism.   To take this stance is not to celebrate science but to distort it.

This is the dominant (not necessarily the majority) view of scientists.

Problems with scientism

I.  It is self-defeating

Science pre-supposes:

1. The universe is ordered and essentially unchanging.

2. The universe is observable and understandable.  There is a 1:1 match between how the human mind works and how the universe in which live funcitons.

3. The universe is governed by mathematically precise laws.

4. Language is adequate to describe the natural realm.

None of these assumptions can be proved by experiment.  In a sense, science is not scientific.

Why do materialists/naturalists believe all these things?  Because they assume they are true.  They have no evidence against any of these things.  None.

Circular reasoning.

At a recent panel forum In the UK, to a naturalist:

How is it that you know all phenomena can be explained by physical laws?

His answer:  I just believe it to be true.

Oh, now we know where we are coming from.

II.  It does not answer the questions that everyone actually cares about.

Questions Science is good at answering:

•u   When?

•u   What?

•u   Where?

•u   How many?

•u   By what means?

Questions Science is very bad at answering:

•-      Why am I here?

•-      Is that the right thing to do?

•-      How valuable am I?

•-      Does God exist?  Does God act (theism)?

•-      Will that God respond if I pray?

•-      Do supernatural events (miracles) happen?

3.  It is wrong.

If materialism/naturalism/scientism is right then

"I" do not exist.  Consciousness is just a word.    Love is just chemicals.

Belief in God is just a "meme"  an unfortunate accidental result of random evolutionary processes.

No soul, no spirit.

Religious thought is total nonsense.  Prayer is my chemicals talking to my chemicals.

Life is completely and fundamentally without purpose.

Nothing has value.   There is no reason to say that the works of Shakespeare are better or more valuable than anything else.

Beauty is a mathematical formula.

Why is this wrong?

The universe was created.

Life was created.

Anthropic Principle


Virtually no one can accept that sex with anyone is OK, that consciousness is a simply a complex chemical phenomenon, that art and beauty and love and inspiration and a purposeful life are just epiphenomena.



4. It is dangerous.


There is no good and evil.


There is no reason to believe that stealing is bad.


Any kind of sexual relationship is only "right" or "wrong" depending on whether it helps the human race to survive.


Violence, genocide, hatred are neither good nor evil.


Justice is a meaningless word.  There is no logical argument to defend the claim that one must act justly.


Human rights have no basis.


Racism is justifiable.  Make no mistake about it…



The idea that there is no absolute truth, but only social constructions of "truth."



"It is true for you, but it is not true for me."     Can anyone (except a philosopher or academe) accept this proposition?


No rational way to determine which is the best world view.




Response to Postmodernism/Cultural Relativism


•u    Positive Contributions

•-       Importance of groups and relationships between groups.

•-       Gives honor to culture, beauty, wonder, imagination.

•-       More accurate description of history (including the history of science).

•-       The Western mindset is not the only valid one.

•-       Gives a broader, more realistic view of the human condition than materialism.


•u    Problems

•-       Very confusing. 

•-       No world view is preferred.

•-       The idea of truth, for all practical purposes, disappears.


Theories of truth:


•u    Correspondence Theory of Truth:  A statement is true if reality corresponds to that which is predicted by the statement.


•u    Relativism (postmodernism):  A claim is made true for those who accept it by that very act (of accepting it).


•u    Truth is either discovered or created.

•u    Truth is either absolute or relative.


If the Postmodernists are right, then:


•u    Reality is a social construction.

•u    A thing is made true by people believing it.  (Is this what makes postmodernism true?)

•u    Language creates reality.

•u    "It is true for you, but it is not true for me."

•u    Truth is found only in an accepted narrative of a group.

•u    No universal trans-cultural standard of truth or value.


All beliefs are unobjective and theory-laden.


•u    No authorial prerogative.  The truth of a text is determined by the culture reading the text.

•u    There is no such thing as the book of Romans.

•-       Methodist Romans, Lutheran Romans, Buddhist Romans, Atheist Romans.

•u    Consciousness is social, not individual.  Self is a construction (mother, British, grad student…)


•u    No rational way to decide which is the best or true world view.  No metanarratives.


•u    All truth is relative.  All truth is cultural.


•u    Individual has no authority to determine what is true.


Problems with postmodernism.


•u    Self-refuting.

•-       If nothing is true, then postmodernism is not true.


Q:  Is it true that truth is definitely relative?


•-       Its authors insist on authorial privilege.


•u    I do not care what they say, some things are just true.


•u    Either God is real or he is not.  Even if I cannot prove it one way or another.


•u    If you culture told you it was safe to jump off a cliff, would you jump?


Scientism may be bogus, but science is not.


•u    The naturally convincing explanation of the success of science is that it is gaining a tightening grasp of an actual reality.  The goal of scientific endeavor is to gain an understanding of the structure of the physical world. The conclusions are always tentative, but they are dictated by the way things actually are.


What is wrong with postmodernism?


•u    It does not agree with reality-with the world as it is.  Our understanding of truth may be relative, but truth is not.


It is dangerous (but maybe not as dangerous as materialism)


Ethics is relative, morality is relative.


The group truth of Nazi Germany is not preferable over any other.


Who is Jesus or Gandhi or Martin Luther King to criticize their given culture?  By what authority?


The Christian World View


•u    1.  The physical world is:

                    a. real       b. created     and    c. essentially good.


•u    2. There exists a parallel unseen spiritual reality which is not       limited to or defined by the physical reality.


•u    3.  The creator of both the physical and spiritual realm is the God who is revealed and who reveals himself in the Bible.


•u    4.  Human beings have both a physical and a spiritual nature, but the spiritual nature is more essential as it is eternal.


•u    5. Although the physical world is good, evil does exist.  Such evil is the result of freedom of will given to created beings and their subsequent decision to use that freedom to "sin" (defined as transgressing the will of God).


•u    6. There is a definite right and wrong for human behavior which is determined by God.



Christianity answers the big questions:

•u    How did I get here?


•u    Why am I here?


•u    Where am I going?


•u    Why are human beings able to comprehend the universe?


•u    Why is there pain and suffering and evil in the world?


•u    The Problem of Sin (the substitutionary death of Jesus)

•-       Romans 7:24,25


•u    The Problem of Suffering (compassion)

•-       Matthew 9:35-36  


•u    The Problem of Death

•-       1 Corinthians 15:54-56



Things the world would lack if not for Christianity and the Christian World View


•u    Science


•u    Abolition of Slavery (Wilberforce)


•u    Civil Rights  (Locke, Martin Luther King Jr. )


•u    Women’s Rights


•u    Christian groups do a majority of all benevolent work in the world (James 1:27, Micah 6:8)





Why are postmodernism and naturalism wrong as philosophies?


There is truth, and science is not the sole arbiter of truth.


Because Jesus is right.


John 14:6              


•u    John 14:6   I AM the way the TRUTH and the life.  no one comes to the Father, except by me.


•u    Why are Postmodernism, Scientism, Animism, Polytheism, Pantheism, Dualism and every other ism wrong?


•u    Genesis Chapter One


•u    Because Jesus is truth.


Two Possibilities:   Either Jesus is truth or he is not…..


Because Jesus Christ is right.  Jesus gave us a world view which agrees with reality and which works.


•u    Fulfilled prophecies of the Messiah.


•u    John 6:48   I am the bread of life.   (right after he fed 5000)


•u    John 11:25  I am the resurrection and the life.  (right before he raised Lazarus)


•u    John 2:19  Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days.   Resurrected from the dead.


If time:    John 11:45-53    What is your response to the truth-claims of Jesus?

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