The Reality of Truth


by Dr. Steve Kumar

Relativism is not a new belief. It is as ancient as the human race. It is not the wisdom of the mind but the error of the soul. Although relativism may appear to be sensible on the surface, it could only be maintained at the expense of reason. Relativism is an illusionary belief. Its view is internally incoherent and logically inconsistent. Alexander Solzhenitsvn was insightful when he said, “It is a terrible thing to be in a society where there is no law; it is equally terrible to live in a society where there are only lawyers.” Relativism is not only the enemy of truth but the enemy of the good.

The first flaw of relativism is that it begs the question. The relativist does not prove that relativism is true but merely assumes that it is true. This is arbitrary and invalid. One must demonstrate the soundness of one’s views before one invites others to embrace it. Relativism is presupposed to be true, presumed as a proven premise and used as an established truth in the process. What is the basis or the ground for relativism? To believe relativism is true one must accept the absolute laws of logic and rationality to qualify as a true belief but such laws are questioned under relativism, therefore relativism can never be regarded as true. Why should anyone accept relativism? As a theory relativism is not intellectually respectable or rational. It provides no logical criteria. In the light of relativism, no person (e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Judas) ever does anything wrong and therefore they could never be condemned. Consider the relativist’s dilemma: A mystical pantheist told a British officer in India, “My conscience tells me to burn a widow with the corpse of her husband.” The officer replied, “My conscience tells me to hang you if you do.” As evangelical philosopher Stuart C. Hackett notes, “If values are wholly relative to an individual valuer, there is no way of explaining how two persons can differ concerning an ethical question, or any other question, for that matter.” An unproved assumption is not worthy of belief. Seven hundred years before Christ the prophet Isaiah understood the error of relativism and pronounced judgment on those who regard evil as good and good as evil (Isaiah 5:20).

The second flaw of relativism is that it refutes itself. Truth by nature is non-contradictory. No theory is true if it falsifies itself. The analytical British philosopher Antony Flew rightly suggests, “To tolerate contradiction is to be indifferent to truth.” The trouble with relativism is that if it is true. it is false. Statements like, “There are no absolute truths!” “Everything is relative!” “Nothing is true!” are self refuting. These statements are grammatically sound but logically false. Take the statement, “A married bachelor drew a square circle on the blackboard that doesn’t exist.” They are deceptive statements. They break the very law they promote. The person who says, “Trust no one!” is in fact inviting you to trust him. Relativism is a false system because it promotes what it denies. Take the example of the existential professor who told his class, “There are no absolutes.” One of his students raised a thoughtful question, “Professor are you absolutely sure?” The professor was absolutely confused by the question.

Recently, a psychology student in Sydney who attended my lecture on relativism said, “Truth is subjective. We all perceive truth in our own way.” I asked her, “Is that really true?” She said, “Yes!” I informed her that if truth is truly perceivable then truth is not subjective. Furthermore if truth is totally subjective, how could she know what I know and how could she tell me what she knows? The fact that she disagrees passionately and is prepared to argue rationally indicates that the concept of relativism is not only meaningless but self-refuting. If a statement or position is self-contradictory then it is necessarily false. In the light of relativism it would be impossible to condemn cannibalism rape, racism, cruelty and other actions. The logician Richard Purtill from Western Washington State University correctly notes, “The relativistic view is incompatible with any moral objection.”

The third flaw of relativism is its own dogmatism. While relativists may argue that one must not be dogmatic or be an absolutist, yet relativists are equally dogmatic about relativism. They believe that relativism is absolutely true. Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark rightly observes, “Objections to dogmatism are always dogmatic, and relativism is always asserted absolutely.” Relativists do not succeed in giving up absolutes–they merely redefine truth subjectively and arbitrarily. When the relativist says, “There are no rules” or “There are no absolutes,” what transpires is not the rejection of dogma but the affirmation of another. What we often fail to see is the unspoken assumption, “(It’s a rule) there are no rules,” or “There are no absolutes (except this one).” Nobody is right (except myself). In the battle for truth relativism is presumed to be the truth without justifying its dogmatic claim. No relativist can escape the charges of dogmatism.

Since relativism begs the question and fails to provide a logical ground for belief and since its assumptions are contradictory and incoherent. wisdom calls us to reject it. Relativism leaves us in the ocean of subjectivity and leads us to the death of truth.

THE REALITY OF TRUTH

Truth is the light of God which reveals the true meaning of reality. The apostle John affirmed this point when he wrote about the logos of God, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world,” (John 1:9).

Truth is fundamental. Without an objective standard of truth no individual can make a sensible choice in our world of ideas. It is the key that opens the door to the meaning of life. It is the fabric which holds our existence together and dives direction and purpose. Without it our existence is an endless repetition of triviality. Our struggle for existence would be as meaningful as blind man in the dark room who was looking for a black cat that wasn’t there.

An event from New York illustrates the point. During one cold night a drunkard was seen walking around a lamppost. A man stopped and asked what he was doing. The drunkard replied, “I am looking for the key to my house.” The man joined in the search but they found nothing. “Are you sure you lost it here?” the man enquired. “No! I lost it a block away,” “Then why are you searching here?” demanded the man. “Because there is enough light here.”

If God exists he holds the key to truth. The brilliant Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is regarded by many scholars as the finest Twentieth Century mind. While working on his masterpiece, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, he came to an amazing conclusion: “Man doesn’t have sufficient perspective from within the world to build an external structure of truth and value.” From a human perspective truth is an impossible ideal but from a divine standpoint it is a reality. Without an objective absolute revelation from God humanity simply drowns in a meaningless sea of subjection. In a time when our culture is uncertain about the truth. When people believe that nothing is knowable, that no one can be sure of anything, we have something unique to communicate. Jesus Christ is the best reflection of God’s. In Him there is no fear of deception. We must first know the truth if we are to bring any reformation to our Society. As Tom Snydder concludes, “we must accurately perceive truth so that we can proceed righteously in truth.” In the light of our predicament Jesus Christ offers the remarkable solution, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

by Dr Steve Kumar

In 1984 our world was horrified by the tragic news of the Avianca Airlines jet that crashed in Spain. But even more disturbing was the discovery of the reason for the accident. Investigators discovered that the “black box” cockpit recorders revealed the shocking truth. Just a few minutes before the tragedy, the computer-synthesized voice from the automatic warning system announced, several times, “Pull up! Pull up!” The pilot however dismissed the warning as malfunctioning, and said, “Shut up, Gringo!” and turned off the system. Moments later the plane crashed into the side of the mountain killing all on board. When truth is ignored our lives are at risk.

The search for truth has always been in the forefront of the thinking mind. The French philosopher Michael Montaigne once observed, “Man is born to inquire after truth.” The ancient philosopher Plato expressed it eloquently when he said, “Just as our heart is designed for love, our mind is designed for truth.” His student Aristotle, said, “A friend is Plato but a greater friend is truth.” Truth is vital to existence. Truth matters to the human race! But is there such a thing as absolute truth? Can we really know the truth?

Sometime ago a group of students were invited to the White House. A spokesperson, in a carefully prepared speech, advised them to be good and moral, not to rob, get involved in drugs or bomb buildings. After the speaker had finished his speech, a student from Harvard asked, “Sir! Can you please tell us on what do you base your morality?” The official was puzzled and replied, “I’m sorry. I don’t know.”

The twentieth century provides many attractive ideas to the curious minds but the most subtle of all is the idea that there is no absolute truth. Allan Bloom, the philosopher from University of Chicago, reports in the opening pages of The Closing of the American Mind that “there is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of, almost every student entering the University believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” “We are caught up in a revolution,” observes Dennis McCall which is ushering in “a cultural metamorphosis-transforming every area of everyday life as it spreads through educational movies, television, and other media.” A case in point is the Howard University professor Jane Flax, a radical feminist, who opposes conventional beliefs about truth, logic, knowledge, personality and language. Following other post-modernists she is crusading to replace it with radical feminism, multiculturalism and relativism. This new wave of thinking is radically transforming our large universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern and others.

REVOLUTION AGAINST THE TRUTH

During a recent Harvard graduation address one student said, “I believe that there is one idea, one sentiment, which we have all acquired at some point in our Harvard careers–and that, ladies and gentlemen, is, in a word, confusion. They tell us it is heresy to suggest the superiority of some value, fantasy to believe in moral argument, slavery to submit to judgement sounder than your own. The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true.”

Historian Arnold Toynbee points out in the study of history we are the first of twenty-one civilisations to attempt “civility” without a moral reference point. Our post-modern age finds the idea of relativism very attractive. A number of recent movies The Mission, At Play in the Field of the Lord, The Black Robe, Do the Right Thing, and Dances with Wolves, portray Christian mission or western culture as guilty of cultural imperialism. The lyrics of musical groups like Offspring, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Bash, Nirvana, Hole, Live, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and many others express postmodernist cynicism.

One day a rabbi, a priest, and a liberal minister were discussing the nature of truth. The rabbi said, “I speak according to the Law of Moses.” The priest declared, “I speak according to the tradition of the church.” The liberal minister said, “It seems to me. . . .” Here we have classic relativism. According to relativism, moral judgements are individual opinions with no validity for anyone but oneself. The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines relativism as “the view that what is right or wrong and good or bad is not absolute but variable and relative, depending on the person, circumstances or social institutions.” In the words of Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” What is true or right for one person may not be necessarily true or right for another person. Relativists insist truth is not based on a fixed absolute external reality but is decided by a group or individual for themselves.

Oscar winning actress Shirley MacLaine declares, “Everyone has his own truth, and truth as an objective reality simply does not exist.” Popular New Age guru Joseph Campbell teaches, “The person who thinks he has found the ultimate truth is wrong.” It is no exaggeration that many describe our century as the age of the Death of Truth. The spirit of relativism is the major force behind the rejection of absolute morality. It is the backbone of radical feminism, the liberalisation of homosexuality, euthanasia, the rejection of Christian particularism and the promotion of deconstructionism. The crisis of the West is the crisis of Truth. The tragic reality of our time is not the lack of knowledge but the rejection of Truth. Truth today is relegated to technology, beauty is confined to the beholder and goodness is ridiculed night after night as millions are idiotized before a box. We have become expendable entities in a disposable world. As we sink deeper into the abyss of nihilism there is still time for us to reflect and return to God’s transcendent Truth. While postmodernist prophets like Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish and others argue that “the truth is there is no truth,” what should the disciples of Christ say to our post-modernist prophets of despair?

For the modern mind the final truth is there is no final truth. Jean-Paul Sartre, the existential atheist, promoted this idea in the Sixties: “There was nothing left in heaven, no right or wrong, nor anyone to give me orders. . . . I am doomed to have no other law but mine. . . . For I . . . am a man, and every man must find his own way.” Michael Novok, in his Templeton address, observed that the most dangerous idea which dominates the West today is relativism. Theologian Carl F. H. Henry describes our generation as “Intellectually uncapped, morally unzippered and volitionally uncurbed,” and in an important work, The Death of Truth, the author captures graphically the modern betrayal of truth.

Theologian David Wells, in his significant book, No Place for Truth, illustrates the widespread influence of relativism in Western churches. The Barnes Report confirms that nearly four out of five Americans are relativists, of the 88 percent who claimed to be evangelical, 53 percent believed that there is no such thing as absolute truth. “Relativism,” observes Professor Arthur Holmes, “has intruded into religion too, so that the Bible’s teaching is too often viewed as culturally relative and in need of change.” According to sociologist Peter Berger the intellectual struggle of the West is. “One long effort to cope with the vertigo of relativity induced by modernization.” Philosophers Jack Meilland and Michael Krausz insist that “Relativism is one of the chief intellectual and social issues of our time.” The idea of relativism is not only gaining popularity within the intellectual community but it is increasingly becoming as Harold A. Netland rightly notes, “the creed of those outside academia as well.”