Is there absolute truth?
How should we respond when skeptics deny the idea of absolute truth? Wilson writes:
If there is absolute truth, how would I respond to these two arguments without saying God exists and therefore absolute truth exists to the atheist?
Is there absolute truth?
2+2=4 is a truth. Specifically it is a tautologous truth, true only by way of analysis. A fact is a property of a material object. If “my pen is green” is true, then green is a fact about the pen. Facts are never true or false. Proof is the method used to shown any truth is valid. The logic applied is the proof. All truths are proof dependent. If a truth then a proof. This is why no truth can be absolute. All truths are relative to a system of proof. Is that an absolute truth? Lol, this statement is so contradictory
I made no absolute truth claim in my reply, and the assertion I did shows you are unaware of the difference. In no manner have I defeated the notion there are no absolute truths and I can’t, because none exist.
No truths exist unless you have proof first, thus no truth is eternal or possibly can be. No truth is independent of a system of proof, thus all truths are relative to a system of proof, including “there are no absolute truths” which is proven true …
These were two atheists/non-Christians commenting on a video by Frank Turek on absolute truth. I wanted to give a good answer, but I do not have any. I am starting to think absolute truth only exists if God exists (I do believe He exists) but unlike what Frank Turek said, cannot be used to argue God if the only way absolute truth can exist is if it existed for eternity which cannot be proven, so it would be along the same lines of arguing God exists.
Thanks for your help
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thanks for writing in. Well, whether we’re talking ‘facts’ or ‘truth’ in these non-believers’ parlance, neither exist apart from God, since nothing exists apart from God (Contingency argument: Why is there something rather than nothing?, Process theism, Did God create time?, and Does God depend on logic to exist?).
But, whether ‘absolute truth’ can be a basis for an argument for God may depend on a lot of controversial things (our theory of truth, our metaphysics of truth, and the relation between truth and language). I have my doubts that this provides a fruitful ground for developing an argument for God from. Even though truth cannot exist apart from God, that doesn’t mean atheists can’t access truth. Indeed, since they were created in God’s image, we’d expect them to have an innate ability to access truth. What grounds that, on atheism? There are good reasons to think atheism can’t provide a ground for us to access truth (Monkey minds). These sorts of ‘arguments from reason’ are probably the closest we can get to a good argument from ‘absolute truth’ to God.
However, the commenters seem to be working with some rather weird definitions of ‘truth’ and ‘fact’. For instance, “A factis a property of a material object” assumes materialism without any proof. Their discussion is extremely muddled. They make many claims without offering any justification, so it might be helpful to simply ask why they believe such radical statements. For example, “No truths exist unless you have proof first”—really? Why believe this? It seems obviously false. A proof is a means for a person to recognize a truth, not what makes it a truth. And many of their other claims are similarly preposterous, e.g., “Facts are never true or false.” Huh?
But, honestly, in this context I think it would be better to ask specific questions more germane to the gospel rather than trying to refute their ideas directly. Why? It’s hard to know how much the commenters are just blowing smoke at someone whose worldview they reject, and how much they’re really interested in (and capable of!) a deep philosophical discussion of the nature of truth.
As such, my first question would be: ‘So, do you think God exists?’ This question will help you gauge how they treat ‘truth’ and ‘fact’, especially about non-physical entities, in practice. If they answer (essentially) ‘yes’ or ‘no’, then you can bypass these discussions of the nature of truth and just discuss the existence of God. Why? If they answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, then they accept that claims about what exists, including claims about God existing, are claims about the nature of reality that we can discuss meaningfully. But make sure to confirm, e.g. like this: ‘So, God’s existence is a meaningful claim we could theoretically have evidence for or against, then. Is that right?’ If they agree, then you should be free and clear to discuss the existence of God and leave behind discussing the nature of truth.
But if their answer to the first question is ‘I don’t know’ (which is a meaningful response), then you want to press them for reasons for their uncertainty. Have they looked at the field of evidence and concluded that it’s hard to judge between ‘yes’ and ‘no’? That’s an opportunity to discuss the evidence and arguments. Do they think we’re too limited to know the answer to such a big question? See Agnosticism for some responses to that.
Or, do they think ‘God’ is difficult to describe meaningfully? This I think is the one most of these sorts of skeptics will latch on to. It’s an easy way out for the atheist who doesn’t want to defend their view. It’s usually motivated by the idea that science is the only way to know anything; but that’s a self-refuting idea. Science can’t prove that science is the only way to know things, therefore the statement can’t be proved by its own criterion (Scientism and secularism … and Scripture?).
If they choose this route, test the waters with a basic definition of ‘God’. A good tactic would be to use the first entry under ‘God’ in the Oxford Dictionary: “(in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.”1 Then, let them know it’s the Oxford Dictionary definition.
If they then want to say that ‘God’ is too hard to define meaningfully, they have to take issue with not just you, but the Oxford Dictionary as well. A simple question would suffice to press the point home: ‘So, the Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘God’ is meaningless?’
If they still want to hold on, hammer the point home with more dictionary definitions. Merriam-Webster: “the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped (as in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism) as creator and ruler of the universe”.2 Dictionary.com: “(in monotheistic religions) the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.”3 The Free Dictionary: “A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.”4 And then press the point: ‘If dictionaries can define ‘God’ easily enough, what’s your problem?’
Typically, they’ll ask for more content. At this point, tell them they don’t need it. After all, these definitions suffice to distinguish ‘God’ meaningfully from other things. If they want to worry about whether God has or can have such properties, tell them that presupposes that we can talk about ‘God’ meaningfully.
What’s the point? The goal is to make them feel the intellectual cost of saying that ‘God’ is a meaningless idea. You want them to commit to either abandoning the notion that ‘God’ is a meaningless idea, or embracing the absurd consequences of that notion. The first is of course preferable, but the latter makes them look foolish, and will discourage any readers from following their path (and may cause the skeptic to rethink things at another time).
Ultimately, truth cannot exist apart from God. But does the notion of ‘absolute truth’ provide a good argument for God? Maybe not. Much of the problem with discussions like this is that people use words like ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ in idiosyncratic ways that load them with more weight than we often give them in everyday contexts. And while a discussion of the nature of truth is interesting, what you really want to know is how they use language to respond to the real world in practice. And, especially, in relation to God and the gospel. No absolute truths matter more than those.
I hope this helps,
Creation Ministries International