In my last post, on the nature of reasonable faith, I mentioned absolute truth and how I don’t believe that someone makes something true by virtue of believing it. In this post, I want to expand on that idea of absolute truth and why I believe that absolute truth exists. What I am not writing about is the existence, or not, of moral absolutes as that concept, though linked to this one, is not directly relevant to this post. I am not an expert on this subject; I do not have a degree in philosophy or whatever, but I have spoken about this idea a lot in my A levels, debating with students and teachers, so this post is essentially a summary of what I have learnt from those discussions and the way my view of the truth has built up over time.
First of all, I should establish what I mean by ‘absolute truth’. By truth I mean something which is ‘in accordance with fact or reality’ (that’s the Oxford dictionary’s definition of ‘true), basically, I mean something that is real, something that exists in the real world. By absolute truth, I mean the opposite of relative truth, that is, it does not vary from person to person. For example, if I say ‘Earth is spherical’, that is a statement of absolute truth: it is in accordance with reality, the Earth really is spherical, and it’s not going to stop being spherical just because you turn round and declare that it is actually a pyramid. I hope that I haven’t confused you by this rather lengthy definition!
I appreciate that a lot of people may be already convinced of this, given the existence of real facts in the world that are clearly absolutely true. That is the basis of my argument. If it is so obvious, why am I bothering to write about this at all? Well, according to some post-modernist theories that I have studied as part of my Sociology A level, knowledge is fragmented and not whole. They argue that there are no meta-narratives, that is, that there is no absolute, objective truth that governs our existence. Again, this probably requires some explanation. From my knowledge, most post-modernists would not argue (I hope) that someone believing that the Earth is a pyramid makes it true, even for them on a personal level. What they would argue is that I cannot say that there is a monotheistic God that created us and that, therefore, other religions have got it wrong, alternatively a Marxist could not say that capitalism is the cause of society’s problems etc. Post-modernism (and the idea of relative truth) argues that if I want to believe in the Christian God, fine, that’s my truth, but if a Hindu wants to believe in the gods of Hinduism, then those gods are true for them and my God has no impact on their life and vice versa. I will focus on the religious aspect of absolute truth and post-modernism because that is what I have the most experience talking about.
My response to the post-modernist who says that is twofold and, I hope, quite simple. First, saying that all truth is relative is an absolute statement (they say that absolute truth can’t exist) and therefore it is logically self-defeating – why should I listen to post-modernists if all truth is relative? Logically, it doesn’t work. Secondly, I completely disagree with the idea that a statement about a God or a religion can be relative at all. Let me put it this way, if I say that God created the universe and then revealed himself, on Earth, through the person of Jesus of Nazareth, I am either right or wrong. In that statement, I am making a claim which, theoretically, could be tested (to a degree) by science (I know that this is another topic so I won’t go into it too much) and I am also making a claim that is historically verifiable. Either God did create the universe, or he didn’t. Either he did come to Earth as Jesus, or he didn’t. If he did do those things, then it applies to the lives of everyone, no matter what you believe about it, and if he didn’t, then he didn’t and Christianity is wrong, it’s as simple as that.
Post-modernism is, for me, a romantic, insubstantial idea. It might work in the minds of philosophers and sociologists, but it doesn’t translate into the real world. Things either exist, or they don’t, they’re either true, or they’re not. For sure, people can have opinions, but those opinions do not affect the reality of the universe. If I believe the teachings of Christianity, but it turns out that Islam is true, then my belief is false, no matter how much I believe it. I hope that I’ve been clear (and accurate) on this topic, because it’s something that I actually feel quite strongly about. I’ll leave you with this quote from one of my favourite authors, C. S. Lewis:
A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.