When I was a senior in college, I took an introductory philosophy class. The professor covered a number of well-known philosophers and explained their ideas by challenging the ideas of his students. Being an avid debater, my hand went up nearly every time the professor laid down his challenge.
“Is there a cause for every effect?” he asked.
“Obviously,” I would answer. “No effect occurs in a vacuum.”
“But have you observed every effect?” he would calmly reply.
“No,” I would admit.
“Then you can’t be sure that a cause exists for every effect, can you?”
We had many exchanges like this during the semester, and I believe they helped me identify many of the assumptions underlying my core beliefs.
During one of these exchanges, we discussed the views of Scottish philosopher David Hume. According to Hume, human knowledge can only be based on experience. Since we interpret our experiences very subjectively, and we can’t possibly experience everything in the universe, we can’t make universal claims about anything.
“Therefore,” my professor rhetorically concluded, “there is no such thing as truth.”
This radical statement flew in the face of everything I’d been raised to believe about right and wrong, good and evil. After all, Christ’s statement in John 17:17 John 17:17Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.
American King James Version×clearly reads, “Your word is truth.” From a purely hypothetical perspective, both Christ and Hume could have been wrong, but both could not have been right!
I wanted to raise my hand and object, but I wasn’t sure how to respond to this outrageous challenge. Fortunately, my professor pointed out the logical problem with his previous statement for the class.
“If there is no such thing as truth, then the phrase ‘there is no such thing as truth’ cannot be true,” he explained.
The claim that there is no such thing as truth is self-contradictory! While this does not prove the existence of truth, it does mean that skeptics may have a logical disadvantage when making certain statements to support their position.
What is truth?
Skepticism about the existence of truth did not begin with the musings of Scottish philosophers. In John 18:38 John 18:38Pilate said to him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, I find in him no fault at all.
American King James Version×, Pontius Pilate asked Christ in perhaps a mocking or world-weary way, “What is truth?”
Today, this same sentiment is expressed in the debate over moral relativism. In schools across America and elsewhere, students are being taught that there are no moral absolutes—no objective standard of morality that applies to all people everywhere. Those who claim otherwise are usually characterized as ignorant or prejudiced. Unfortunately, the indoctrination of young people by such educators has proven to be very effective.
According to a recent study by the Barna Group, nearly half of Americans in their 20s and 30s believes that morality is based on “what is right for the person” instead of godly principles (“A New Generation of Adults Bends Moral and Sexual Rules to Their Liking,” Oct. 31, 2006).
Yet rejecting God’s principles of morality comes at a high price. For example, research shows that living together before marriage doubles the rate of divorce (Patrick Fagan, “How Broken Families Rob Children of Their Chances for Future Prosperity,” The Heritage Foundation, June 11, 1999) and lowers one’s self-esteem (Susan Brown and Monica Longmore, “Union Type and Adult Self-Esteem,” Center for Family and Demographic Research). By replacing God with one’s feelings as the guide for deciding right and wrong, people are forced to try to learn how to be happy the hard way.
Vertical thinkers caught in the crossfire of today’s culture war need to understand the frightening implications of a society without absolute moral truth. If there is no objective standard of behavior, nothing can be labeled as “wrong.” If the majority of people began to tolerate pedophilia and euthanasia, then sex with children and killing sick people would no longer be considered wrong. Sexual assault, theft and other violations of our liberty and property could cease to be treated as criminal.
And here we come to the crux of the matter. While people who claim there are no moral absolutes often speak of showing tolerance toward all beliefs and values, there is at least one value that relativists can seemingly never manage to accept: intolerance. Yet they can also be quite intolerant themselves.
Ask any self-proclaimed moral relativist if there is anything that he or she cannot tolerate and you will likely get a list of attitudes and practices ranging from racism to genocide. Clearly, these things are evil and should not be tolerated. However, our very refusal to tolerate evil assumes the existence of moral absolutes. But without a set of objective principles to guide our thinking, evil is just different.
We can come to know and understand absolute truths about morality and human behavior through studying the Bible.
Don’t let anyone, even your philosophy professor, fool you into believing he or she is morally neutral or that absolute truth simply doesn’t exist. In fact, the next time someone tells you there is no such thing as truth, you can honestly say, “That’s just your opinion.” VT