What Is Truth?

One of the questions that I have consistently encountered as I have begun to work my way through examining my faith is this: What is truth?

What Is Truth

Some related questions to this one are:

  • Can truth be known?
  • Who determines truth?
  • Can truths about God be known?
  • Is truth absolute or relative?
  • Is truth objective or subjective?

There are several theories about truth, and the reality of truth:

Truth Theory Statement Advocates
Correspondence Theory Truth corresponds to the actual state of affairs Socrates, Plato, Aristotle
Coherence Theory Truth requires that all the elements fit within a whole system Spinoza, Leibniz, G.W.F. Hegel
Constructivist Theory Truth is constructed by social processes, is historically and culturally specific Giambattista Vico, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx
Consensus Theory Truth is whatever is agreed upon Jurgen Habermas, Nicholas Rescher
Pragmatic Theory Truth is verified by putting it into practice Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, John Dewey
Minimalist Theories Rejects the thesis that the concept or term “truth” refers to a real property of sentences or propositions. Gottlob Frege, F.P. Ramsey

Most people hold to a Correspondence or Coherence Theory of truth, which is to say, that truth is demonstrable and verifiable (by reason, rational thought, empirical data, etc.).  I think this is the right view to take of truth.  Without a way to verify truth, there’s no reason for reason. 

Here are some truths about truth:

  • Truth is discovered, not invented.  It exists independent of anyone’s knowledge of it (gravity existed prior to Newton).
  • Truth is the same across all cultures.  If something is true, it is true for everyone.
  • Truth is unchanging, even if our beliefs about truth change.  For example, the Earth has always been round, even though people believed for a time that it was flat.
  • Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how sincerely they are held.  So, for example, if the fact is that God doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t matter that people believe that God does exist.  On the other hand, if God does exist, then it doesn’t matter if people believe that he doesn’t exist.
  • Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it.  An arrogant person does not make the truth he professes false.  A humble person does not make the error he professes true.
  • All truths are absolute truths.  Contrary beliefs are possible, but not contrary truths.  A truth that you espouse cannot be self-defeating.  Also, truth excludes that which it opposes (the existence of truth reveals the existence of the false).

For example, one cannot say, “All truth is relative,” because that statement, in and of itself, is not relative.  One also cannot say, “There is no truth,” because that also is a self-defeating statement (they are proclaiming a truth whilst saying there is no truth).  One cannot say, “I can’t speak a word of English,” because the statement itself is self-contradictory.

This also relates to religion.  If there is truth, then not all religions can be completely true; some of them must be false, because they hold mutually exclusive beliefs (see an earlier discussion in the comments about the Holy Spirit).  Most religions have some truth to them, but they have more contradictory beliefs than complementary ones:

  • Some religions believe in a theistic God, while others believe in pantheism.
  • Some religions believe that evil is an illusion, while others believe that evil is real.
  • Some religions believe that people are saved by grace, while others believe people are saved by their own good works.

Questions: What theory of truth do you adhere to?  Do you believe there is absolute truth?  Do you believe that truth is objective?  You can leave your comments by clicking here.

This post is part of my series called “Cross Examination: Is Debunking Christianity Possible?”  If you missed earlier installments of this series, you can read them here:

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I do believe in absolute truth and recognize I may be wrong about things I believe to be true but aren’t. I also believe that my perception, opinion, or preference–whether fairly accurate or totally skewed–does not alter the truth.

    On the other hand, the constructivist theory could be applied to how cultures operate. For instance, how one buys milk in Russia is different than how one buys milk in America. Both people groups do drink milk (as well as assorted other beverages including the ubiquitous Coca Cola). They just use different systems to move the milk from cow to glass.

    Religious beliefs though open up a whole different line of thinking. In this case, people are saying something about a person(s)–a god, gods, or no god at all. Those statements cannot all be true. They can’t even all be false since a god or gods negates no god at all.

  • http://brocmiddleton.blogspot.com/ Broc

    I think that the most difficult thing about this series is going to be establishing an idea like “truth” and then having that idea actual carry over to the subsequent blog posts which come after it; because you will be building a foundation first and then going more specific.  It will become very tiresome to rehash the exact same debates over and over. Do you foresee this issue as well? If so, will comments be more subject to blog author (Bob) discretion, or how will this problem be handled?

    • http://bobewoldt.com Robert Ewoldt

      I don’t think that, in practice, most people believe in one of the other
      theories of truth (other than the Correspondence or Coherance theories).
      Most people–Christians, Muslims, atheists, humanists, etc–believe that
      truth is verifiable and objective, and lean on that definition of truth in
      order to offer proof of their beliefs.

      There are some people who believe that truth is the consensus, or truth is
      personal, but it’s very hard to argue one’s own beliefs to convince someone
      else when you hold that view of truth.

      • http://exchristian.net The Truth Seeker

        Bob, what would you say are the main truths of religion? How would you back up these claims?

      • Anonymous

        “Most people–Christians, Muslims, atheists, humanists, etc–believe that truth is verifiable and objective, and lean on that definition of truth in order to offer proof of their beliefs.” 

        If faith-based groups such as Christians and Muslims believe that “truth is verifiable and objective”, and if  each of the aforementioned believe they know “The Truth”(and they do), then I fail to understand the need for “faith” in the first place. Why not just say, I know I’m right, and here’s my verifiable, objective evidence that proves I’m right:  [insert objective evidence] 

        ????

  • Pingback: Cross Examination: The Limits of Science | Brevis from Bob Ewoldt()

  • Pingback: Cross Examination: The Will to Believe | Brevis from Bob Ewoldt()