Tag Archives: Truth

Columbo’s Logic, Part 3

What? You don’t have these yet??

Today, we’re finishing up a look at how Greg Koukl’s “Columbo questions” in his book “Tactics” actually build on what’s called the 3 acts of the mind from classical logic. His first question, “What do you mean by that?”, sought to clarify the words being debated and results in understanding, the first act of the mind. His second question, “How did you come to that conclusion?”, sought reasons for why we should agree to a person’s statement. That is, appropriately enough, reasoning – the third act of the mind. But understanding what someone is saying and why they are saying it both have an end goal: being able to judge whether what they’ve said is actually true, and should be accepted. Getting at the truth is the objective of Greg’s insightful questions, and this requires the second act of the mind – judgment. So let’s jump in and work through that today.

“Judge not” seems to have become the two most popular words to take out of context in all of the Bible,  but judging things (and yes, people) is still necessary. In fact, it’s required for rational thought, for truth can only be discovered through judgment. Judgment is simply to decide on the truth or falsity of a statement. If I decide to drink from the jug of milk in the fridge that I forgot about a month ago, I have mistakenly judged the statement “It’s safe to drink chunky milk” to be true. That is a bad judgment, and one I’ll likely pay for. Knowingly hiring a child molester to babysit your kids would also be a case of very bad judgment. On the other hand, good judgment is valued enough that we even pay certain people to judge other people as their full-time job. We call them… judges. As an engineer, I am given a solemn responsibility to use my “professional judgment” to protect and safeguard the public for whom I’m designing something. But what constitutes good judgment and bad judgment?

Judgment is essentially the relation of two or more concepts to each other to make a statement about them that is either true or false. Judgment is propositional in nature, in that we cannot formulate judgments without forming declarative statements about what we’re judging. Just as in grammar, those statements (or propositions) have a subject about which we have something to say, and a predicate that predicates, or says something about, the subject. I’ve mentioned in parts 1 & 2 that terms and reasoning can’t be true or false, but only clear or unclear for terms, and valid or invalid for reasoning. But here, with propositions, we have a claim being made, and the possibility of it being true or false. We may not know whether the claim is true or false, but every proposition must be one or the other. “This apple is red,” “This chunky milk is OK to drink” “Hitler was a bad man,” “Jesus is God.” Each of those statements relates two concepts (like “apples” and “redness”) in such a way that we must decide if that relation is true or not. If I am holding a Granny Smith apple when I make that first statement, you would be justified in judging it a false proposition, for Granny Smiths are famously bright green rather than red. What warranted that judgment? Simply that my statement did not correspond with reality. While this may seem like common sense, this is technically known as the correspondence theory of truth, namely that truth is what corresponds to reality.  When we are presented with an assertion that we are trying to examine, judgment is needed to decide if the proposition asserted is true or not – if it corresponds with reality. A simple enough statement may be self-evident or immediately verifiable. But many topics, and especially controversial ones, will require hearing supporting statements that must also be judged as true or false.

Let’s look at an example of a modern hot topic. Abortion supporters will often say something to the effect of “my body, my choice” to say that women have a right to an abortion on demand. At that level, it’s only an assertion. But suppose a thoughtful supporter of abortion filled in the premises to that conclusion and said something like, “I have the freedom to do what I want to my own body. Abortion is a procedure done to my own body. Therefore, I am free to choose an abortion.” Although the reasoning is valid (i.e. the conclusion follows from the premises as stated), the second premise is obviously false; there are always 2 bodies involved in the procedure and the successful procedure always results in the death of one of them. If there’s any doubt that the baby is not part of the mother’s body, a simple DNA test can confirm that beyond all doubt. This one’s pretty straightforward since it’s a scientifically verifiable fact that the fetus is not part of the mother’s body. So the supporting premise is false and the original assertion can be dismissed, right? Not so fast. As Peter Kreeft points out in his logic text, “you do not refute a conclusion by showing that it follows from false premises.”[1] The thoughtful opponent could revise their premises to validly support their original conclusion, thus proving their case. So what have we accomplished in judging that premise false? We’ve shown that their case is not as airtight as they had probably assumed. It is inconclusive, and they need to go “back to the drawing board,” so to speak. Encourage them to revise it and get back with you. “Put a stone in their shoe”, as Greg likes to say.[2] Don’t be afraid of what they’ll come back with. If their conclusion really is false, then they simply will not be able to find true premises validly built up to support a false conclusion.

Most of us don’t like to admit we’re wrong about anything. And someone proving us wrong doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow. So a lot of times, our approach needs to be to help someone see for themselves that their view doesn’t work, because they’re the only one they’ll really listen to. But I’m OK with that. Honest dialogue is like a long journey towards truth together rather than a quick and bloody duel of opinions that goes nowhere. But as ambassadors for Christ [2Cor 5:20], we have this advantage: “Regardless of a man’s system, he has to live in God’s world”[3], and a successful search for real truth, even if it meanders and hits some bumps along the way, will necessarily lead to God, for all truth is God’s truth.

[1] Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 197.
[2] Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), p. 38.
[3] ibid, p144. Greg is quoting Francis Schaeffer here, from Schaeffer’s book, The God Who Is There.

Worship in Truth

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman”, by Gustav Dore, 19th c.

A woman inquired of Jesus about the proper place to worship: was it the temple in Jerusalem, or Mount Gerazim where her people worshiped? This raises the larger question of what’s actually important in this activity of worshiping God. Does location matter? Time? What about form of worship? In His reply to her one issue, Jesus answered the bigger issue when He told her to worship “in spirit and in truth”, for those are the worshipers God seeks [Jn 4:23-24].  But what does that mean? Let’s work through that today.

First, Nelson’s Bible Dictionary defines worship as “the supreme honor or veneration given either in thought or deed to a person or thing.”[1] However, while it can be directed to anything or anyone, only God is actually worthy of worship. Let’s look at 5 distinctives of Christian worship.

  • We must worship “in spirit” because God is spirit; that is, He is immaterial. And He has created us humans with a spirit as well. We are far more than the sum of our physical body components. Our worship can not be reduced to simply chemical reactions or physical responses to stimuli. There is a relational interaction between our spirit and the Spirit of God that transcends location or language or communication skills. Reverend Watkins writes in Ellicott’s Commentary that “The yearning of the human spirit is that of a child seeking the author of his being.”[2]  As Grudem points out, “genuine worship is not something that is self-generated or that can be worked up within ourselves. It must rather be the outpouring of our hearts in response to a realization of who God is.”[3]
  • While there is a mystical, spiritual component to our worship that may be expressed in a variety of ways, Christian worship is worship “in truth”. Therefore, it is also strongly propositional. It makes informative statements. It is not just some wishy-washy, make-it-up-as-you-go “spirituality” popular among many these days, but rather objective statements about God’s attributes, His actions in the world, and His work in the lives of His people. When we sing “Up from the grave He arose!”, we are making definite objective statements about Jesus’ actions in history. When we sing “Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!”, we are making objective statements about His nature. There’s no room for “true for you but not for me” relativism in Christian worship.
  • Worship “in truth” has real content. If your worship consists of making animal noises, I would argue that you’re not really worshiping.  Or if your worship is only an emotional high, barely distinguishable from the feelings at Saturday night’s concert other than it’s on Sunday morning, I would encourage you to look a little deeper. Emotions are good, but Christian worship grounds those emotions in solid truth. There’s a saying that “We sing our theology”, and that should give us pause. In light of that, the Christian should always examine the words they sing to verify that they are truthful and correspond to what we know of God.
  • Worship “in truth” will correspond to who God is, for truth is correspondence to reality. Ellicott’s commentary on those verses in John says, “Worship which is ‘in truth’ is in harmony with the nature of the God whom we worship.”[2] Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament likewise says of this passage, “To worship in truth is not merely to worship in sincerity, but with a worship corresponding to the nature of its object.”[4] The Expositor’s Greek Testament adds that worship “is to be ἐν ἀληθείᾳ {en aletheia} – in correspondence with reality.”[5] In other words, we worship God as all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign, and holy because He actually possesses those attributes. We don’t worship God as the sum total of the universe (pantheism) or as the Force from Star Wars (panentheism), because those propositions – those truth claims – do not correspond to reality.
  • Lastly, worship “in truth” should be free from hypocrisy. After all, hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another, which is the total opposite of corresponding to reality.

In summary, Christian worship is honoring God with our heart, soul, strength and mind, recognizing who He is, and responding appropriately. It is not limited by time or place, or status of the worshiper, or style of worship. It must be offered honestly and sincerely, not by rote, as a spiritual service to God and not to please man. For that is what God desires of us, and only that will ultimately satisfy creatures created to glorify God.

[1] “Worship”, Nelson’s Foundational Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004).
[2] John 4:23, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, ed. Charles John Ellicott (London: Cassell & Co., 1905). Section on the Gospel of John authored by the Reverend H.W. Watkins.
[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), p. 1011.
[4] Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (NY: Scribner, 1887).
[5] John 4:23, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, ed. Rev. W. Robertson Nicoll (NY: George H. Doran Co, 1897). Section on the Gospel of John authored by Marcus Dods.

Dangerous Assumptions

Ever assumed you knew something that turned out to be completely different? I know I have. It doesn’t take long to learn how embarrassing hasty assumptions can be. Yet we still have to make a lot of assumptions in life every day. I have to assume when I go to bed each night that my truck will start in the morning, and I don’t actually need to get up at 2 in the morning and run an ultra-marathon just to get to work on time. A dead truck is a possibility, but practically speaking, my assumption of reliable transportation is a fairly safe assumption given that truck’s history of dependability. In engineering, we have to make a lot of assumptions that can drastically change the results, and we’re expected to be able to judge whether those assumptions are justified or not. Assuming certain vibrational characteristics for a project, only to find out your structure’s resonant frequency actually matches the frequency of the average person’s walking gait, can change a client’s bold, cantilevered office building with a view into a nauseating life of trying to do office work on the end of a diving board. Assuming a connection to be rigid when it’s not, or assuming a high frictional resistance that may or may not be present can completely alter load paths, and divert force into components never designed for it. Assuming a beam is adequately braced when it’s not can change the mode of failure from a nice slow yielding to a sudden lateral-torsional buckling, drastically lowering the safe load on the beam, and possibly resulting in a structural failure. Just like assuming a snake isn’t poisonous, a lot of engineering assumptions can pack a deadly bite.

So what is it about assumptions that can be so disastrous? The issue is how close they are to, or how far they are from, reality. In essence, it’s a matter of how truthful the assumption is, for truth is simply correspondence to reality. If I assume the max unbraced length of a 30 foot long beam is 5 feet and it turns out to be 6 feet, then I’m fairly close to the truth of the matter , and I’ve erred on the side of caution, so my design should do well. If I assume it’s 30′ and I don’t need any bracing at all, then I’m working off a false premise, and I’m flirting with disaster. Sadly, a lot of people are making an even more dangerous assumption every day, many never realizing it until it’s too late.

What is this deadly assumption, you ask? Let’s work through some examples of it and find a common denominator:

  • “God is love, so that means everybody goes to heaven, right?” This assumes a very one-dimensional caricature of God, who is also just and righteous and holy. One could just as easily state, “God is just and we’re all sinners, so that means everybody goes to hell, right?” Or we could see Him as He has revealed Himself to us, and recognize that His love provided a way for us to be reconciled and justified before His perfect unbending justice, but only if we don’t reject it. Thus, some will be saved and some won’t.
  • “I’m a pretty good person, so God surely wouldn’t send me to hell.” This assumes that an absolutely perfect and holy God grades on a curve. We may lower our standards but why assume a perfectly just God would do the same?
  • “I don’t need God to be a good person, and that’s what counts, right? – Leaving the world a little better place than I found it?” This common misconception is based on a relativistic notion of “goodness”. But unless you happen to be the one perfect person in the whole world, good isn’t good enough to meet God’s perfect standard. And besides that, a lot of people throughout history have convinced themselves their heinous actions were actually for the “greater good.” So beware of subjective standards of “goodness”.
  • “I don’t like this God yours, so I’m going to just find one I like better.” My preference often has little to do with reality, and this dangerous assumption makes the mistake of thinking one’s dislike and rejection of God somehow circumvents the need to deal with God’s independent existence (and our potential obligations to Him) on His sovereign terms.
  • “I hadn’t really thought about what happens when I die, but I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.” When has apathy and sticking one’s head in the sand ever been a good strategy for anything? The person saying this isn’t really sure of anything other than that they don’t want to think about anything that might require them to change course.

There’s a common assumption at the base of all of these statements – that we, as individuals with our finite comprehension, somehow know better than our omniscient Creator how He should’ve done things. It’s the notion that our way – our personal and very subjective way – is the right way, instead of God’s way. Ultimately, it comes back to pride, which, as the Bible wisely warns, “goes before destruction” [Prov 16:18]. So be wise and learn from the mistakes of others, and avoid the eternal consequences of these most dangerous assumptions.

Apologetics Leads to True Worship

Apologetics and worship? Aren’t those mutually exclusive? Christian apologetics, the reasoned defense of the faith, is often seen as rather dry and clinical – a very cold, sterile niche of Christianity set aside for those kinda weird nerds or those that are a little more quarrelsome than they should be. Meanwhile, worship is of the heart, not the head, right? Well, this nerd begs to differ. Worship is certainly more than feelings. I would dare say that many mistake the beat of a good tune for the moving of the Spirit of God, but I digress….

In studying the ontological argument the past few weeks, I have read through quite a few references on it. Most address the validity of it, the objections to it, responses to those objections, and so on. But Doug Groothuis was the only one to remind the reader that this argument for the existence of God was originally part of a prayer. Says Groothuis: “Anselm’s version of the argument was offered as part of a prayer. He earnestly sought to offer an argument to God that would convince “the fool” of Psalm 14 that God must exist. So, the chapel and the study become the same room. The existence of the greatest possible being should compel our worship, since no greater being is possible and we are far lesser beings than this being.”[1]

But is this joining of the study and the chapel unique to this one argument? Hardly. It’s difficult  to really think of the axiological argument (the moral argument), without thinking of the perfect justice of God. And as praiseworthy as that attribute of God is, that also reminds us of how far we fall short of His standard and are rightly condemned by that perfect justice [Rom 3:10,23]. But then we are reminded of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, “once for all” [Heb 7:27], that we may be reconciled to God [2Cor 5:18-21], not because of our own works [Ti 3:5], blind as we were on our own, but only because of God’s grace [Eph 2:8-9]. And we can joyously sing with that former slave-trader John Newton:

“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

The teleological argument (the design argument) has always made such perfect sense to me as an engineer who designs things. How could I not recognize the handiwork of the Master Designer in everything from the grand scale of the finely-tuned cosmos [Ps19:1-2] to the layered mysteries of genetics [Ps 139:14]?  Surely, I recognize the signature of Him whose work astounds me afresh the closer I study it! And then, recognizing the staggering heights of power and knowledge we speak of when we bandy about words like omnipotence and omniscience, what could be more fitting than that beautiful hymn “How Great Thou Art”? ”

“O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed;
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
how great thou art, how great thou art!”

The cosmological argument points us toward the necessity of a transcendent First Cause, existing beyond space and time [Col 1:17, 1Cor 2:7]. And when we work through the implications of this, words like “eternal” can’t be uttered quite so flippantly. And we join with that great hymn writer Isaac Watts in humbly approaching our Eternal God :

“Through every age, eternal God,
Thou art our rest, our safe abode;
High was thy throne ere heav’n was made,
Or earth thy humble footstool laid.

Long hadst thou reigned ere time began,
Or dust was fashioned to a man;
And long thy kingdom shall endure
When earth and time shall be no more.”

Of course, worship must be sincere, and cannot be manufactured, but worship flows out of a grateful heart convinced of who God is and what He’s done. A study of apologetics teaches us why we believe what we believe about God,  and the more we study God – His attributes, His past actions, His foretelling of future actions, His statements about Himself and what they mean – the more convinced we will be of His praiseworthiness. We tend to worship unsuitable things all too easily. It is so commonplace in our culture, that here in America, we’ve even named a common quest for fame “American Idol.” But a mind renewed and  informed by a steady diet of God’s truth can put the brakes on that idol factory of the heart, and redirect it toward the only worthy object of worship: God almighty. Yes, our minds must be involved in worship. Learning about God, if understood, necessarily leads to worship; it can do no other. So, as I get ready to leave in the morning for 3 very full days of classes and presentations from some great men of God, I encourage you to love the Lord with all your heart and soul and strength, and – yes – your mind. [Lk 10:27]

*  If you don’t see the humor in the intro graphic above, it may help to know the 2 men in the bottom of the photo are the Christian philosophers William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. Read my original post on the ontological argument here, to find out why they might worship God as “maximally great”. 😉

[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011), p. 186-7.

What I Found

“Still Life with Bible” – Vincent Van Gogh, 1885

Atheists will sometimes ask what it would take for a Christian to walk away from Christianity. I think Paul addressed that in his letter to the Corinthians when he stated that if Jesus was not raised from the dead (i.e. bodily, as an actual historical event occurring in space and time), then our faith is in vain, we are to be most pitied of all men, and we should abandon this then-false religion, for we would be false witnesses against God by saying God raised Jesus from the dead if He didn’t [1Cor 15:14-19]. This emphasis on actual, objective, historical events that could be investigated is a really bad way to start a false religion, but a great way to proclaim truth. Per the apostle Paul, Christianity stands or falls with the Resurrection.However, an atheist probably would not be content with a Christian leaving Christianity simply to turn to Judaism.  For, of course, refuting Christianity would still not eliminate the need for God. But the desire, nonetheless, is still for us to leave all religion and join their atheist ranks. So that got me thinking: what have I found in Christianity that I would be leaving if I were to oblige the atheist missionary? Well….

I have found Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover[1]; Aquinas’ First Cause[2]; the “Highest Good” that the ancient philosophers sought for; Anselm’s “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” [3]; the Necessary Being upon which all else depends for existence; the Fine-tuner of the universe that explains the Goldilocks dilemma we face when we examine the universe; the Enabler of abiogenesis, without whom life cannot come from non-life; the Source of all the information we find encoded in our own DNA; the Designer behind all the “apparent design” in biology that frustrates Richard Dawkins; the Mind that explains the consciousness of our minds that scientists can’t explain; the Truth that explains objective transcendent truth [Jn 14:6]; Love that explains how and why we love [1Jn 4:19]; the Grand Artist that explains aesthetics[4] in what should be a cold, cruel, survival-focused universe; and the Author of life [Acts 3:14-15 ESV]. It would be intellectual suicide for me to give up all that. But the atheist is asking me to do far more than just drop an intellectual stance.

I have also found the One who loved me from before the beginning of time [Rom 5:8, 2Tim 1:9, Eph 1:4, 1Jn 4:9-10]; a perfect Father [Rom 8:15-16]; the Savior of my soul [Lk 2:11, Jn 4:42]; my Redeemer who rescued me [Ps 19:14, Job 19:25]; the One who made me in His image and gives me intrinsic value [Gen 1:27, Gen 9:6, Matt 6:26]; my Mediator before a just and holy God whom I could never satisfy in my sinfulness [1Tim 2:5]; my Counselor, Advocate, and Intercessor [Jn 16:7-14, Rom 8:26-27]; my source of freedom – truly beautiful, joyous freedom! – [Jn 8:32,36]; my Comforter in times of trouble [2Cor 1:3-5]; the delight of my heart [Ps 35:9]; my Peace when all around me is turmoil [Jn 14:27, 2Thes 3:16]; my steadfast foundation in the tumultuous craziness of life [Lk 6:47-48]; my Hope of glory [Col 1:27];  and the Architect of my eternal home [Heb 11:10]. Yeah, I found all that, too.

Christianity is not simply a rational intellectual viewpoint, but a relationship with my Creator. It isn’t simply some sterile, isolated idea or opinion, but rather the very presence of my Creator. And you ask me to give up that relationship, and all those answers to life’s questions to boot, and be content with the loneliness and unanswered questions of atheism? Are you crazy?! Maybe, but I’m not!

[1] “Aristotle has an argument … which he makes in Book 8 of the Physics and uses again in Book 12 of the Metaphysics that there must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for all wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world.” Sachs, Joe. “Aristotle: Metaphysics”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
[2] “It is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.”  See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Vol. I, Question 2, Article 3, 2nd way.
[3] See this previous post for a refresher of St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument, based on Plantinga’s reformulation of it last century.
[4] Or, “that best and most systematic Artisan of all”, as Nicolas Copernicus would say in his preface to “On the Revolutions”. See Nicolas Copernicus, Complete Works: On the Revolutions, translation and commentary by Edward Rosen (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 4.

Some Truth About Truth

Today, I wanted to share with you some insights about the nature of truth. I’ve shared in the past about objective truth (here, here, and here), but today I wanted to share a nicely summarized list of some of the consequences of that objectivity, drawn from Frank Turek’s and Norm Geisler’s book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Let’s jump in!

  1. “Truth is discovered, not invented. It exists independently of anyone’s knowledge of it.” Suppose NASA were to announce tomorrow that the presence of intelligent  life had been confirmed on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. If that were true, it would not become true because they said it. It would be true based on there actually being aliens living on Titan. It would be true whether or not humans ever discovered it. There is nothing we could do to make that statement true (short of moving to Titan ourselves).
  2. “Truth is transcultural; if something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, at all times (2+2=4 for everyone, everywhere, at every time).” There is no “Western truth” versus “Eastern truth” or”modern truth” versus “ancient truth”. When the Nazis claimed Jews were subhuman, that was not true for them and false for the  rest of us; it was a lie regardless of who said it, when they said it, where they said, and whether or not their culture condoned them saying it.
  3. “Truth is unchanging, even though our beliefs about truth change.” People in our generation put an undue amount of trust in “science” to eventually reveal all knowledge and fix all problems, but the history of science is often one of trial and error. We laugh now at some of the seriously-proposed theories of only a few years ago and how far from the truth they were. But  notice that when we propose a new model to better explain gravity or the wave-like and particle-like behavior of light, it is not gravity or light that are changing, but rather our understanding of them. New theories presuppose that there is such a thing as objective truth, for it was the old theory’s “missing the mark” of an independent truth that required a new theory.
  4. “Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how sincerely they are held.” You can sincerely believe you can fly (unaided), but if you jump off a bridge, gravity will clear up that sincerely wrong belief very quickly. It’s good to be sincere, but we should always strive to be correct in our beliefs as well.
  5. “Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it.” Nobody likes being corrected by a jerk, but humility or arrogance about the truth does not change the truthfulness of a statement. Questioning the truthfulness of a statement solely because of the attitude of the person espousing it would actually be a form of the genetic fallacy – the idea that the origin of the information alone can prove it false.
  6. “All truths are absolute truths.” There cannot be any relative truth. One might be tempted to say some statements are statements of personal truth, relative to the person making the statement and not applicable to anyone else. The statement “I like chocolate ice cream” might be true for John and not for Bob. But if we get more specific, we can see how even this can be absolute: “At 9:30 on July 11, 2017, John liked chocolate ice cream” is true for all people in all places at all times, if that particular man named John really did like chocolate ice cream then.
  7. “All truths exclude their opposites. Contrary beliefs are possible, but not contrary truths.” People like to assume things like “all religions are basically the same” without actually supporting that claim. But consider what just 3 religions say about one person in particular. Christianity claims that Jesus is God, eternal and  uncreated, the only mediator between God and man, who took on human nature and lived a perfect sinless life, gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins that we may be reconciled to God, and rose from the dead, the first fruit of a future resurrection available to all who trust in Him. That’s a significant claim! Judaism claims He was a blasphemous and traitorous rabbi who deserved the death sentence He received, and importantly, stayed dead once He was killed on a Roman cross. Islam claims that He was a true prophet, but one who was spared death on the cross, never claimed to be God, and is not the source of our salvation. These are contradictory beliefs, but each is still believed by many different people. While it is possible that all religions could be false, what is completely impossible is that they could all be true when they have contradictory tenets. If one is true (like Christianity), any others that contradict it are necessarily false.
  8. Let me add one more characteristic to the list: Truth is independent of the medium used to carry it. A true statement is true regardless of whether it is handwritten on paper, spoken out loud, typed electronically, or only thought in private and never communicated. It is true whether it is in English, or Chinese, or any other language. It is not the atoms of ink embedded in a particular pattern on the paper, or the magnetized molecules forming the binary bits of electronic data on a computer hard drive, or the molecules of air in a particular waveform of sounds, or even the neurons in the brain of the person thinking about it that make it true. This idea that information is immaterial is the basis for translation: we can say that “the apple is red” and “la manzana es roja” are equivalent statements because they both convey the same immaterial concept – the specific color of a  specific object (i.e. a red apple). And they are both true statements, regardless of how the statements are communicated, if the object actually is a red apple.

Our culture today likes to say things like “everything is relative”, and “there are no absolutes.” If you’ve accepted those popular mantras, my hope is that I’ve shown you good reasons why those relativistic slogans just don’t work in real life. Objective truth has certain implications that we can see manifested in the world around us. And when we recognize that relationship between truth and reality, it empowers us to boldly discern the truth that is out there waiting for us, rather than being stymied by walls of lies masquerading as contradictory truth claims that can’t be questioned. When we recognize that real truth can’t be “true for you, but not for me”, we then have the freedom to peel back the layers of opinions and perspectives and interpretations on controversial issues until we find the real nugget of truth underneath it all. And that is a beautiful thing, my friends, and worth the work.

Points 1-7 are from Dr. Frank Turek & Dr. Norman Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), pp. 37-38.
Point 8 , regarding the immaterial nature of information (and, consequently, of true information) is from Dr. Werner Gitt, Without Excuse (Atlanta: Creation Book Publishers, 2011), p. 124.

“What is Truth?”

“What is Truth? Christ and Pilate” – by Nikolai Ge, 1890

“What is Truth?” Pilate asked those words of Jesus almost 2 millennia ago. Johnny Cash had a song with that title back in 1970. Some questions never go away, I suppose. While there are actually several theories of what “truth” is, I want to focus today on the classical version that, I think, is still the best. Let’s dig in!

The classical view of truth is the correspondence theory of truth: a statement is true simply if it corresponds to reality. Aristotle expressed this well when he said that to speak truth is “to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not.” This seems like simple common sense, but since our culture today seems to be struggling with the very notion of truth, let me provide an example.

In engineering, we know that when we idealize a joint, it doesn’t correspond perfectly to reality, and we accept some loss in fidelity in favor of simplification for analysis… to a point. But sometimes we have to say, “This has gone beyond simplification and is now misrepresenting the object being analyzed.” Our model doesn’t correspond to the real object anymore.

For instance, we tend to model truss joints as being “pinned” – i.e. not rigid. And for most trusses like the open web steel roof joists you might see in a retail store, that’s a relatively accurate model.

Now compare that “simple” pinned truss joint to a giant truss joint like the one pictured here. That’s a pretty beefy connection and probably more accurate to assume a high degree of stiffness in that joint. Somewhere in between those 2 extremes, our model passes a point of unacceptable noncorrespondance to real joint behavior. What about these in-between situations? Just because that point is in a gray area doesn’t mean we deny the idea of truth being what corresponds to reality. Sometimes, in critical applications, it’s warranted to invest the extra work in modeling the joint as a rotational spring to capture that behavior in between a rotating pin or a fully rigid joint. Likewise, in diaphragm design, we are allowed to assume flexible or rigid diaphragms for the obvious extremes like thin metal or wood decks versus thick concrete slabs. For those unclear areas in between, we use the more accurate method of a “semi-rigid” diaphragm using a finite element analysis to analyze our floors or roofs. Why? Because our profession recognizes that truth still exists, even in gray areas. It’s just more difficult to ascertain, and requires more thorough investigation to find it. So in real life, the existence of gray areas and difficult situations doesn’t preclude the existence of a “right”, or true, answer; rather, what we are recognizing when we classify something as a gray area is our uncertainty of the truth we are seeking in those situations.  But we stillrecognize that the truth is there, somewhere, or else we wouldn’t seek more accurate answers. And this recognition of a reality holding the right answer, outside of our own interpretations of reality, points to the premise that truth is objective and not subjective. In other words, the truth about an object is based on the object itself, not on our subjective perceptions of it.  If I’m colorblind, I might perceive an object’s color very differently from another person, but the object is absorbing and reflecting photons of light in a manner independent of either observer. Therefore, the true color of the object is based on the properties of the object itself, and I describe the object truthfully when I call it by the color it has rather than the color I think I see.

Gray areas in moral and ethical questions are often used to undermine the idea that there are objective moral truths as well as physical truths like my examples above. Yet this is a similar situation to those examples: just because we can recognize the right answer in the easy,  obvious cases doesn’t mean there isn’t a right answer for those less-obvious cases. It just means we might have to dig a little deeper, and possibly remain unsatisfied with potential answers until we find the right one.  But there’s a shortcut, of sorts. The one true God who created the physical universe with its objective physical truths also established the moral truths we seek.  In God, we have that independent “third-party” that can referee between competing truth claims from different people, cultures, times, or places. And who better than the very source of moral truth, for whom it is impossible to lie? [He 6:18, Ti 1:2] Until next time, never waver in the relentless pursuit of truth!

Mission Impossible?

endless-debate-norman-rockwellI was talking with an atheist friend the other day, and he made 3 interesting statements in the course of our conversation: 1) that he considered himself open-minded, 2) that there was nothing that a religious relative of his would ever be able to say that would convince him Christianity were true, and 3) that the two of us would probably never agree on either religion or politics, so there wasn’t much point to discussing them. Setting aside the oddity of saying one is “open-minded”and yet there is nothing an opponent can say to change one’s mind, let’s look at the 3rd statement.

Is dialogue between opposing sides pointless? Or worse, a Mission Impossible scenario with little chance of success and almost guaranteed failure? Can people of opposing views never come to agreement, except to “agree to disagree”? I would certainly hope not. What a disappointing world that would be if we were all condemned to continue in our set ways, with no hope of ever being able to exchange wrong beliefs for true beliefs. We all have wrong beliefs about different things at different times in our lives. But the act of learning often involves correcting those wrong beliefs and replacing them with truth. So it seems to me that if human learning is possible, then it is possible to change our beliefs. And if that comes about by another person sharing new knowledge with us that convinces us of its truthfulness, and it’s simultaneous incompatibility with our current beliefs, then we have the potential to genuinely benefit from our dialogue with an opposing view.  As Thomas Aquinas said, “there is no greater act of charity one can do to his neighbor than to lead him to the truth.”[1] Philosophy professor Peter Kreeft instructs future debaters reading his logic textbook that, “the aim of both parties must be simply to seek and find the truth,” and “The essence of the Socratic method is this logical cross-examination of an idea, following the argument wherever its inner logic takes it. Thus the impersonal laws of logic become a ‘common master’ rather than either person mastering the other, and the argument is not ‘me vs. you’ but ‘us vs. ignorance’; not ‘we are not together because we differ about what is true’ but ‘let us try to find the truth together.'”[2] This does require humility, on the part of both sides, as it requires both to be willing to admit that we might have been wrong before, which most people (myself included) don’t like doing. The alternative, though, is possibly continuing in error, which isn’t very satisfying either, if we’re honest. But when the discussion is about the very existence of God, the cost of error is potentially much greater than simple dissatisfaction. If eternity hangs in the balance, then there can be no topic with more serious consequences or more far-reaching implications. If there is even room for debate, then it behooves one to not simply dismiss the question as a pointless topic.

So is it pointless to discuss these matters? It can seem that way, particularly when tempers flare. Yet with humility and honesty on both sides, sensitive discussions can be exceptionally fruitful. “But,” you might ask, “what about when that attitude is absent on one side?”  While that makes it more difficult, I don’t see it as an insurmountable obstacle. And I say that having been that ungracious, defensive, “difficult person” in the past. I’ve also been the person getting steamrolled and losing the debate in spectacular fashion. But even then, it was never pointless. We tend to learn more from our failures than our successes, and those failures motivate me to be diligent to show myself a workman not needing to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth [2 Tim 2:15], always speaking graciously [Col 4:6], and better prepared the next time to give a reasonable and respectful answer for the hope I have [1 Pet 3:15].

Let me close by saying that talking about a “point” to a discussion entails a goal or purpose. If the goal is to “win” the argument, then there will be a combative or aggressive stance from the beginning that may sow the seeds of its own defeat, so that even winning that particular battle may lose the war. But if the object is pursuing truth together, as Kreeft suggests, then there can be no losers. And if that pursuit of truth leads to The Truth [John 14:6], whether immediately, in the course of discussion, or years later from a seed planted in loving debate, then  “winner” doesn’t even begin to describe the outcome for the one rescued out of the fog of unbelief. And that outcome makes even Mission Impossible odds worth taking on. After all, our God deals in making the impossible happen.[Matt 19:25-26]

[1] As quoted in Socratic Logic, by Peter Kreeft, (South Bend: Ignatius Press, 2010), p.346.
[2] ibid., p.350.

Old Books

freeimages.com/pcst, file#1560855I came across an article recently about the top ten new books to read in the coming year, and it reminded me of a statement by C.S. Lewis about the value of old books. With that in mind, I’d like to put Lewis’s statement out there for a new generation that may not be familiar with it, and give a few examples of how his assessment of new vs. old can help us today. I’ll refrain from any attempt at a top ten list, but hopefully, you’ll come away this week with a sense of what to include in your own “must read” list for the new year. Let’s start by rejecting what Lewis famously called “chronological snobbery”: “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” He continues,

“You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”[1]

What solution did Lewis propose?

“The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not of course that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”[2]

Let’s flesh that out a little. Reading old books helps us in the following ways:

  • It helps to protect us from repeating past mistakes. We may find our “new” problem was actually already soundly resolved centuries ago if we only do some research. As George Santayana remarked, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[3] As I’ve read more old books lately, I’ve been surprised at how many “modern” attacks against Christianity were being addressed by early Christians like Justin Martyr & Irenaeus over 1800 years ago.
  • Reading old books helps us to recognize timeless truths as we see some principles successfully applied to various situations over the ages. It eliminates the variables of time, geography and culture as we see that some things were just as true for the ancient Greeks and the Jews and the Romans as they are for us today.
  • Reading old books keeps us humble as we realize that our small contributions to history are only possible because we stand on the shoulders of giants. Yet this should also inspire us to follow in their footsteps and pick up where they left off.
  • Reading old books keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. The long-term perspective that results from reading authors from a range of thousands of years helps us see just how silly some of our current seriously-held views are. Just as fashion trends come and go, ideological fads do too. And many of our current trendy views will seem just as ridiculous 100 years from now as parachute pants from the 80’s seem today.
  • Reading old books stretches us mentally. Yes, older books are often more difficult to read. The language tends to be more formal, and when it’s not, the slang used may be difficult to decipher without looking up some archaic words. But gold is rarely found without hard work, and there are some beautiful nuggets of wisdom hiding in some of those awkward (to us) passages. To draw a practical analogy, a lot of my professional growth as an engineer has come through trying to follow what a senior engineer had done to solve a problem that was beyond my skill set at the time. Don’t shy away from stretching yourself.

With that in mind, what will you read this year? The same faddish books that will be forgotten in a year? Or something that’s stood the test of time? Books you can read and safely let your mind atrophy without fear of any mental exercise being required? Or maybe something a little tougher to digest?  Books that will congratulate you just for showing up? Or books that will make you realize you’re in the presence of greatness, and inspire you to build on their foundation and pursue still greater heights? Books that will simply affirm your own views? Or ones that will challenge the errors you may be overlooking? Invest your reading time wisely this coming year.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (San Diego: Harvest/HBJ, 1955), p. 207-208.
[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 202.
[3] George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume I, 1905.


You’re So Vain

freeimages.com/livingos“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you…”

Carly Simon may not have had in mind the exclusivity of truth claims when she wrote those lyrics back in the 70’s, but that charge of vanity is also sometimes leveled at anyone who claims to be “right” about something, especially in the realm of morality. I read an opinion online recently that any one religion feeling their beliefs are superior to another is “egocentric and self-centered”. But it’s only egocentric and self-centered if all views are equal. If, for instance, Jews were actually correct that Jesus was not God incarnate, but only a blasphemous rabbi, or if the Muslims were actually correct that Jesus was a prophet and nothing more, then I would not say they were egocentric for saying they were right and I was wrong. On the contrary, their statement would then be rooted not in themselves, but in the objective truth that Jesus wasn’t really God (assuming for the sake of argument that was correct). This is actually the opposite of egocentrism and self-centeredness because the nature of objective truth means that we can be genuinely right or wrong based on the object we make a statement about, not our subjective opinion of the object. This is really other-centered rather than self-centered.

In fact, it’s the relativist worldview that is egocentric, as it seeks to define truth relative to one’s own standard. But some things really are independent of any standard we invent. Think of it this way: suppose I were color-blind and about to eat poison fruit that looked identical to a certain edible fruit except for the critical detail that they are the 2 colors I can’t differentiate. Should you, coming up to me right before I take the fatal bite (not being color-blind and knowing the danger I was in), refrain from telling me the truth for fear of appearing self-centered? No! First off, that would be selfless of you to try to warn me of the danger I was in. But I also wouldn’t call you self-centered because your warning was not simply your own personal opinion, but rather your awareness of the objective toxicity of the fruit. It’s poisonous whether or not either of us are aware of it, and whether or not either of us do anything with that knowledge. Regardless of whether I think the poison fruit will kill me, I’d still be dead in the morning.

Likewise, there’s another poison called sin that is killing each and every person on this planet, and there’s only one cure: Jesus Christ. It’s not self-centeredness, but rather selfless love,  that motivates (or at least should motivate) Christians to try to warn people of the danger they’re in. “But”, you might ask, “don’t other religions think they are helping people just as much with their proselytizing, too?” Yes, I would say they probably do, and they are probably very sincere in those efforts. But that is precisely where objective truth comes into play. Being sincerely wrong doesn’t alter the consequences of our choices. And so it’s not vain or self-centered for the Christian to believe they’re right and others are wrong if their beliefs are grounded in the unchanging standard of God’s truth instead of their own opinions.

Some would accept that truth is conformance to reality, but then say that only applies to description, not prescription. In other words, moral values prescribing what is right and wrong are allegedly outside the scope of objective truth because these aren’t statements about “real” physical objects that can therefore conform to reality. Yet the same unchanging God who made all of our physical reality also prescribed certain behaviors as right and others as wrong, whether we agree with them or not. And if reality is that which exists, then if these laws have been decreed by God, and so exist, then morality is simply part of the non-physical portion of reality. Just as descriptions of the natural world will be truthful when they conform to physical (or natural) reality, behavioral prescriptions will also be true when they conform to that non-physical (or supernatural) reality.

In the general revelation of nature and the special revelation of the Bible, we have a unified message from the Author of all of reality. And our understanding of both nature and morality need to be rooted in God’s truth if we don’t want to be tossed about by every new wave of ideology that comes across the bow as we sail the seas of this life. Rather than self-centered vanity, this is a most humble reliance and focus on our Creator as the only transcendent source of Truth.