Defining Absolute Truth
An Analysis of “Truth”
By Tom Kendall
An Introduction to “Truth”
The word “truth” is often mislabeled and misused. One man’s “truth” is often another man’s folly. Therefore, we must put the term “truth” in perspective. Webster defines “truth” as:
truth (trōōth) n. pl. truths (trōōthz, trōōths)
1. Conformity to fact or actuality.
2. A statement proven to be or accepted as true.
3. Sincerity; integrity.
4. Fidelity to an original or standard.
5. Reality; actuality.
often Truth That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence.
Because most people accept the term “truth” at this level, let’s examine these definitions to see if they hold up in all cases.
Conformity to fact or actuality.
This definition is acceptable in what I will refer to as “relative truth”. That is, it is “true” in relation to a set of facts or circumstances, but not the type of “truth”, “absolute truth” that we will seek in this article. It is “true”, and thus “truth”, that the sun is shining where I am today, but that is not necessarily the “truth” if you aren’t where I am today. Therefore, it is an example of how the truth is “conformed” to fit the circumstances, or what is “actually” perceived by the person espousing the “truth”, but the truth is only “relative” to the person who fits the circumstances, and can not be considered and “absolute” truth.
A statement proven to be or accepted as true
At one time, scientists “proved” that the world was flat and it was accepted as “truth”. Therefore, just because it was “proven” and “accepted” as truth, didn’t actually make it true. This is what I will refer to as “perceived truth”; that is, it is true because it is perceived, and generally accepted as “true”, but the element of time eventually uncovers the fallacy and replaces it with a new perception of “truth”.
This is yet another form of “perceived truth”. Because people sincerely believed the world was flat, doesn’t make it “truth”. There was no malicious scheme to deceive the world. Scientists of the time genuinely believed they had sufficient scientific data to believe, with all integrity and honesty, that the world was indeed flat. Just because it is sincerely believed, does not make something “true”, and certainly not “absolute truth”.
Fidelity to an original or standard.
Closely related to “perceived truth”, is a “current truth”. The primary difference is that a “perceived truth” is generally accepted as, now discovered, it is enduring truth whereas “current truth” at least has some expectation that it will be improved upon at some point in time. For example, the Wright Brothers finally discovered a design that would allow man to fly. After a relatively short period of time, their “original” concept because the “standard” for aviation.
Because all people who flew did so in fixed wing aircraft, normally having two primary wings, a single engine and a propeller, created a conformity to the original or the current “standard” and thus it was true for a time, at least, that all people who flew above the ground did so in that manner. And although that in itself was “truth”, there was also an expectation that research and new technology would improve upon the original and the “current” standard, and it did!
However, it was no doubt inconceivable, at least at that time, that man would fly to the moon and back or be able to fly in a non-fixed wing aircraft like a helicopter, for example. So simply adhering to an original assumption, no matter how good it may have been, and even if it was a “standard” for a time, does not make it “absolute truth”, or even an “enduring truth”.
Reality and actuality can be temporary, and vary based on different people’s “perceptions” or “current” status. Therefore, this definition does not “endure” and can not qualify as “absolute truth”.
That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence.
This is a definition that tries to define “absolute truth” by reigning “supreme”, in other words, “the truth of all truth”. That which has “ultimate” meaning and “value of existence” brings about visions of a God-like “truth”, which, if actually from God, would be an “absolute truth”.
Even in secular definitions, such as these, the definition that comes closest to “absolute truth” is also that which begins to take on more spiritual overtones. “Absolute truth” is accepted by many as the Word of God in the Holy Bible. For others, however, the Bible holds little if any “truth” if their “belief” and “faith” are in other teachings which they accept as “truth”. By the mere definitions stated above, one seeking “absolute truth” must agree that if those who hold two different “standards” as “absolute truth”, only one, or possible neither, may be actual “absolute truth”, but it is not possible for two contradicting “truths” to both be “absolute” truth.
What is “Absolute Truth”?
“Absolute truth” is a truth that goes beyond all of the definitions we examined above. To be “absolute”, it must never change. For example, solving the addition problem of 2+2, one arrives at the sum of “4”. Has 2+2 EVER been anything other than 4? No. WILL 2+2 ever be anything other than 4? No. Therefore, 2+2 is a principle that we can count on to be replicated over and over, a “truth” that has always been and will always be, with no expectation of change through outside influences, such as improvements in technology, better “science”, etc.
How To Distort “Absolute Truth”
One would think that if “absolute truth” is so “absolute”, it wouldn’t be possible to argue any other position that might differ, however, when man-made, or self-imposed beliefs, “rules” or “laws” are “added to” or “taken away from” absolute truth, some can try to make a case for a different “truth”. For example, consider another math question:
“What is the sum of 4.5 + 4.5?” No doubt, you said 9. You would certainly have many agree with you that 4.5 + 4.5 is indeed an “absolute truth”. However, if one were to state: “4.5 + 4.5 = 10”, you might say that not “truth” at all, but clearly incorrect and false.
Oh, but wait! Suppose we apply “generally accepted” principles of “rounding” where any value of one-half or greater is rounded up! That is a principle that has been “accepted” by many disciplines, so therefore, 4.5 + 4.5 with rounding “principles” applied, does indeed make it equal 10. For example, if you had two $4.50 expenses for your tax return, the IRS would allow a $10.00 expense deduction, thus $4.50 plus $4.50 equals $10.00
This is a very simple example of how even “absolute truth” can be distorted to be “accepted” as “truth”. If the United States government were to ever eliminate the penny from circulation, two 4 cent items would cost 10 cents. Therefore, one could argue that it is “true” that 4 cents plus 4 cents equals 10 cents. Although “true” by “acceptance”, legislated “standards” and “conformity to the fact” that there are no pennies, 4+4=10, it doesn’t make it “absolute truth”, only a “current” or “relative” truth. Establishing a “basis” for “absolute truth”
Before there can be ANY discussion regarding the Bible as “absolute” truth of God, and if it is “God’s Word”, the parties must first agree on how they will even recognize truth when they see it. Here is a basis from which to build a discussion of the “truth” of the Bible:
- Do you agree that there can be only ONE “absolute” truth? If you can not agree with this fundamental statement, then there is nothing to discuss except “opinions”, and although interesting and sometimes stimulating, “opinions” PROVE NOTHING except that each party has one.
- The “majority” doesn’t “rule”. ”Absolute truth” is not a democratic. If it were, the earth would still be flat! General consensus of “opinion” does not constitute “truth”.
- “Absolute Truth” can not change, otherwise it is not “absolute”. All the other forms of “truth” are subject to change, but “absolute truth”, like 2+2=4, never changes, and there is no EXPECTIION of change.
- “Absolute Truth” is not self-contradictory. ”2+2 is always equal to 4 except on the second Tuesday of the month, when it equals 5.”
Man can not change “Absolute Truth” In order to make an exception to an “absolute” truth, such as a law of nature, one would have to have “absolute” control over nature; e.g. God. As much as man has conquered nature and learned about its structure, man has never been able to create something from nothing. Man can not, for example, by his own will, defy gravity without the use of temporary mechanical aids such as an aircraft. Conquering gravity to the extent man can fly, does not make the law of gravity any the less an “absolute” truth. Man can not defy gravity simply by will. God, however, can, because God was the creator of natural law. Thus, Jesus could walk on water, raise Himself from the dead, raise others from the dead, cause Peter to walk on water, etc. The fact that He could do such things by His will, is in itself evidence that Jesus is God as well as a man.
Thus, if one were to say gravity is not an “absolute” law because Jesus defied it and Jesus was only a man, then any man should have the same capability to freely defy the natural law of gravity, but no man ever (or will) has without Divine intervention. Because no man ever has defied natural laws by his free will, and Jesus did, illustrates Jesus’ divinity beyond an ordinary man. Likewise, if one might try to argue that because Jesus defied the law of gravity, the law of gravity can not be “absolute truth”. Simply because Jesus was an exception, and “absolute truth” can not have exceptions would be a reasonable argument, if Jesus was an ordinary man like the rest of us. Since God is the only one with power over all things, including natural law, then God is the only exception. Even if one were to deny the existence of God and insist on a scientific perspective only, then they would have to agree that no man could, at will, defy the laws of nature, as science has proven these laws to be “absolute” and are the basis of science itself.
Speaking theoretically to an atheist, they might even agree that only “God” could defy the laws of nature, but since they don’t believe there is a God, then these laws can not be broken. If one can accept the eye-witness accounts of Jesus and Peter walking on water, Lazarus, and others, being raised from the dead, even Jesus raising Himself from death, would be an argument that Jesus had to have been God, or the eye-witness accounts in the Bible are false. Most non-believers will choose the later since they can offer no other reason why someone who was just a “great man” could defy absolute truths simply by willing them to be so.
At this point, the foundation of what is “absolute” truth and other forms of truth have been laid and one can apply these standards to the discussion of the Bible, science, the Book of Mormon, the Qur’an or any other topic one wishes to discuss. This is now an excellent time to begin to study “Is the Bible True?”.