“…for this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” – Jesus, John 18:37c
“Follow truth, wherever it may lead.” – Thomas Jefferson (attrib.)
To establish the foundations of a reasonable trust in Christianity, we will start at the bottom of the study structure I outlined in my last post, and begin by talking about the nature and existence of truth. Although when in conversation with someone about the rationality of our beliefs it will not usually be required that you justify your understanding of truth, at times it will come up, and having thought through your foundational beliefs will serve you well in your defense. No Christian should fear fully investigating and seeking out truth, since, as Augustine puts it, “let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.” Establishing and understanding the existence and definition of truth is also needed for following arguments to build upon.
Correspondence Theory of Truth
So what is truth? According to the correspondence theory of truth, it is an accurate description of reality; a proposition is true if and only if it corresponds to the way things actually are. This is really quite intuitive. “Jonathan Wood owns a cherry red Ferrari” is true if and only if I actually own a cherry red Ferrari (I don’t, more’s the pity). This theory seeks to explain the conditions under which a proposition would be true, not how or if we can know the truth value of that proposition. “There is a hot pink golf ball on the planet Pluto” has a truth value of true or false, even if it is impossible for anyone to know that truth value.
This illustrates the meaning and difference between two important philosophical terms pertaining to truth and knowledge which we will come back to frequently. Ontology relates to existence or being, while epistemology relates to how we attain and justify knowledge. These are important to understand as different, as it is not uncommon to mistakenly think that because one may not know the truth value of a particular sentence, it therefore has no truth value.
Attacks on Truth – Tolerance and Pluralism
The modern usage of “tolerance” is nearly useless; it is used now to mean that one should not indicate that another person is wrong about their beliefs. If a moral or philosophical rule cannot meet its own standards, there is a problem. This new definition of tolerance self-destructs if applied to itself: questioning if this is itself a correct belief, or if a person who rejects this kind of tolerance should be tolerated. No, tolerance only applies when there is a disagreement: disagreement is required. Without a disagreement, there is nothing to tolerate. Therefore, a proper view of tolerance should be applied to people, not ideas. People are tolerated when they disagree with others, but no idea is so sacrosanct that it should be immune from evaluation and critique.
Concerning “religious pluralism,” if in using this concept one refers to the right to choose one’s religion without coercion, this is a good thing. However, in today’s culture, the term has come to mean much the same as “tolerance” in that one ought not make exclusive truth claims about religious beliefs. It fails in the same way that the redefinition of “tolerance” fails: it decries exclusivism in religious beliefs, but is itself an exclusive belief about religion, namely that only inclusive religious beliefs are acceptable.
Moreover, it should be clear that even if one is to accept this view of religious tolerance and pluralism, it cannot survive more than the most superficial and patronizing treatment of religious beliefs. One does not have to look far to see that almost all the most important core beliefs of the world religions are in conflict with most other religions’ views. As examples, regarding the concept of God, is God personal, impersonal, monotheistic, polytheistic, dualistic? Is mankind part of creation but different in kind, an evolved ape, an illusion along with the rest of “reality”? What about afterlife, does man cease to exist on death, go to heaven or hell, merge with the impersonal spirit force, or reincarnate? All of these views could be wrong, but they cannot all be right. We must investigate the truth of which, if any, of the world’s religious views (including atheism) is correct.
Next time, we’ll investigate the question, What is knowledge?
Comments, questions? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!
(All Scripture in this post is from the ESV translation)