I went fishing one week in Alaska with a good friend; and his brother-in-law, whom I had never met, tagged along. He seemed to be a nice enough guy, at first, until he started asserting certain religious beliefs that I mistakenly took as him wanting to open a discussion on the topic. Wrong!

I had simply mentioned that I thought the word "truth" meant a whole lot more in the Bible than most people thought it did. He asked what I meant, and I said that most Evangelical Christians felt that truth was simply the truth of the Gospel, and not "all truth". I always was taught that God wanted Christians to pursue and love all truth.

Once he understood what I was expressing, his demeanor immediately changed to aggressive. He was in my face, yelling. I think he thought I was a heretic because I interpreted the Bible to mean "truth" as more than the truth of the gospel. It immediately angered him.

His tactic was to ask the same question over and over; pause to wait for my attempt to answer; and then shout down my answer, drowning out all attempts to answer him. He asked "What is truth? What is truth? What is truth? You can't tell me what truth is! What is truth?" This wasn't theological discourse, it was him insisting I knew nothing that he was interested in hearing. He was only interested in ramming his beliefs down my throat.

I am a fairly quick learner in such situations. I know when an answer is really not wanted. His question was not seeking an answer. It was a bludgeon to swing wildly about; to silence any attempt at a real discussion -- or any attempt to offer an alternative idea.

I kid you not, he went into a tirade that lasted several minutes, repeating this same question but not allowing an answer. He'd stop like he was waiting for me to answer his question; but he really was not. When I'd start to say something he'd start the verbal bludgeoning again -- intentionally drowning me out, refusing to let me answer. It wasn't a physical assault, but it surely was a verbal one.

Curiously, the question he was using as his bludgeon was, "What is truth? What is truth? What is truth? You can't tell me what truth is! What is truth? As though truth is non-existant or undefinable.

Prior to this I had thought him a devout Christian. After this I knew he was just a bully in religious drag. I suppose a "saved" bully; but very much still a bully.

I tried to tell him that truth is what really is, as opposed to all the other explanations of some phenomenon. I couldn't even tell him that. He wouldn't accept any answer. He wanted to ask "What is truth?" but he didn't really want to know what real truth is. He isn't alone in this. It seems to be a malady of our times.

Despite the bullying, he was asking an exceedingly important question: What is truth?

All people of intellect and persons professing to be Christians should understand the question and have a ready answer.

I think he had taken some philosophy course, and thought it was an unanswerable question. It is very popular today to believe that there is no such thing as objective truth; that all truth is internal and subjective; and, for some, whatever you think it is. I found this curious; because he says he is a "born-again" Christian. Most Evangelical Christians take it as a fundamental tenet that there is objective truth, and that they possess it.

Jesus declared that He is the Truth; and this guy, a true believer, was asking me "What is truth?"

I guess he didn't realize the contradiction between his faith and his question. Like Pilate, who asked Jesus who he was; and Jesus said,
"For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.
Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

Pilate scoffed and asked the rhetorical question, "What is truth?" It is important to note that he asked this question while the very God of truth was standing right before him. There is an important principle here: Those who are unwilling to see truth will miss it when it stands right before them.

This guy who was attacking me almost surely didn't realize it but he was actually saying he didn't recognize Jesus as the Truth. If truth is unknowable, then so is Jesus, because He is truth.

There is a simple biblical syllogism (argument by deductive reasoning) that explains this:
1). God cannot lie (Titus 1:2);
2). Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1); therefore, by deduction,
3). Jesus Christ cannot lie.
4). If God and Jesus cannot lie, then all they speak is truth.

If, as my fishing partner proposes, truth cannot be known, then nothing that God or Jesus speaks can be known. I know he didn't intend to go that far, but logic demands that answer.

I disagree with his implicit admission. I believe we can know truths, almost certainly not all truth, but truths, and that those who seriously seek truth are thereby drawing closer to God and to his ways.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is intended to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). The Godhead is founded in truth, and wants to lead us into all truth. You cannot reject any truth without -- in that one aspect -- also rejecting God.

Too many Christians today think that a simple formulaic salvation prayer is all there is to Christianity. It is that, but much more than that! Christianity is supposed to be a quest for all truth, because that was the promise of John 16:13.

So, "What is truth?" It isn't as tough a question as most philosophers would have you believe. And I am not trying to discount their rigorous efforts to discover absolute truth. Nor do I discount their proper urging that we be very careful that we not delude ourselves. It is great advice and a great cautionary. But sometimes it is better to look at the forest instead of studying the individual trees. You may not get to absolute truth this way, but you get closer and closer to truth with this approach, and so far none of the World's best minds have been able to attain to absolute truth, so why not try to just gain more truth, which is far more attainable? Let me give you an analogy to make clear what I am saying.

When steam engines were first invented, they revolutionized how work was done, from the farm, to the factory, to the railroad, to the shipping industries. Engineers and scientists were hired to figure out how to make these steam engines more efficient. To do so, they had to understand the behavior of steam at various temperatures and pressures. And there were no formulas or theories to work with. They understood that it was energy in the form of heat that turned liquid water into steam, and it was energy that raised the pressure of steam ever higher, sometimes to the point where it burst boilers and scalded and killed many people nearby. But no one had a real understanding sufficient to be predictive.

Huge effort was spent trying to mathematically calculate the behavior of individual steam molecules, and it lead nowhere. Finally, one scientist was convinced that the variation in behavior of the individual molecules was so varied that no sense could come from further effort along that line of approach. I liken this approach to "looking at individual trees in an attempt to describe a forest." This physicist and chemist, Robert Boyle, in 1662, looked at the behavior of steam in a vessel, and tried to understand the relation between pressure and vessel volume. That is, he looked at overall behavior, taken as a whole, instead of looking at the individual molecules. He rather quickly came up with the ideal gas law (PV=nRT) that relates pressure, temperature, volume, and the total mass of the gas. In my analogy, the forest gave him the answers that the individual trees could not.

A similar analogy can be made between Newtonian physics and Quantum physics. Newtonian physics is so deterministic we can plot the course of galaxies millions of light years away from us to astonished precision. Let me repeat, the precision to which it works at our scale and at larger scales, out to billions of light years is simply astonishing. But -- as one scales down to the atomic level, Newtonian physics starts to fail, and Quantum physics becomes essential.

It is important to understand that there is no disagreement between Newtonian physics and Quantum physics at the scale to which Newtonian physics applies. So Newtonian physics gives us real answers, or the truth, where it is applicable, but it isn't applicable at small scales. From this analogy, it can be understood that Newtonian physics is a very real truth, but not an absolute truth.

When we compare Quantum physics to truth, it comes very close to giving us answers that are true at every scale, from galactic to sub-atomic, but because it is probabilistic in nature, it cannot rightly be called absolute truth either.

No one has proven absolute truth yet, through religion, mathematics, or physics. And we may never, even though we recognize that concept of absolute truth as necessary for sanity's sake. If there is no real truth, then there is no logic, and our whole system of thinking falls apart. There is a popularized idea that truth is personal only. But if so, then everything is just a matter of taste, there is no right or wrong, true or false, nor any accountability. Period. Full stop. You can't have it both ways.

Just as it is impossible to track the behavior of individual gas molecules closely enough to figure out the relations between pressure, temperature, and volume of a vessel containing a gas, it is so far impossible to pin down absolute truth. But, by stepping away from the individual gas molecules (or individual trees), and examining the behavior of the whole vessel of gas (or the forest), the picture becomes much more clear. And this is so for truth, just as it is so for gases and forests.

Truth is best explained by example -- to get your mind in the correct framework, before attempting a more rigorous (forest scale) definition. This is because the definitions just substitute synonyms for the word; but that is not at all unusual in dictionaries. Sometimes examples work better than synonyms as a place to start. So, let us start with just one example of truth and error.

We humans, prior to Louis Pasteur, used to believe that night air was what caused sickness. House windows were not left open, even in stifling heat, because people had rightly observed that when windows were open at night there was more sickness in the home. They didn't associate their open windows with mosquitoes that bore malaria, yellow fever, and other illnesses having ready access to sleeping persons. This was before window screens were popular. They had observed a definite relation between open windows at night and subsequent sickness, so they wrongly concluded that night air was somehow bad, not even thinking about mosquitoes and not yet knowing about the existence of vector-borne protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, which we lump under the term, germs.

It took Louis Pasteur to convince the world that germs cause sickness. This is now a well established fact; what I'll call an established truth. Night air causing sickness is not the truth; it is an error. Put fine screens on your windows and leave the windows open on a hot summer night and you'll be just fine breathing all that night air; and safe from vector-borne germs, so long as the mosquitoes can't get through a hole in the window screens. The night air by itself is harmless.

Louis Pasteur's discovery is "a truth". It isn't all truth about the possible causes of human sickness, but it is a truth. Pasteur didn't discover genetic defects, which also cause human illnesses. But he certainly did prove to the medical profession not only that germs can cause human diseases, but also that the body is able to develop antibodies against certain germs if a proper vaccine is developed and administered. And his discovery of these truths has saved literally millions of human lives. Discovery of truth is always liberating. As Jesus declared, "the truth shall make you free." Chose to interpret his statement very narrowly -- as applying only to salvation -- if you please, but if so, please explain to me why He promised to lead us into all truth?

Anyone today who claims that germs are a myth, or cannot cause sickness is either horribly uninformed (ignorant), or stupid (knows of the overwhelming evidence, but still refuses to believe it), or a willful liar. It is a truth that germs can cause human sickness. It is error to believe that night air causes these same sicknesses.

So now, with the analogies in our minds to clarify the concepts, the definition of truth is quite simple. Truth is what really is. Error is any explanation or declaration that is not what really is. If you don't believe in objective truth, then you don't believe this explanation, and you logically don't know anything else either, other than that you exist. (More on this in Footnote 1.)

For certain, truth is oftentimes elusive. We often think we know truth, but in fact we don't. Samuel Clemens observed this often, and included his commentary on this observation in his most famous book, Mark Twain:

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

In non-philosophical terms, this is pretty succinct. We regard as truth that which is actually so, and falsehood as that which "just ain't so." A good synonym for truth is reality. That which really is. Reality does not depend on what you think. Reality exists whether you believe it or not. Reality is simply another term for what really is. And so is truth.

But truth is not a single thing, and truth sometimes depends on case, place, and time, as made clear in the Newtonian and Quantum physics analogies. Actually, it is not quite appropriate to describe Newtonian and Quantum physics as analogies to truth, because both are actual attempts to describe truth. It is more appropriate to describe these two physics as "models of truth".

Although I do believe in objective truth, I am smart enough to realize that I (and you) sure don't have it much of the time. For a better discussion of objective truth, also by me, see:
Objective Truth: Who Can Know It?.

Philosophers have set about to seek a truth that is always a truth, in all cases, and in all places, in all of time. They have been chasing their tails about this for centuries, and never quite catching them. In a sense their effort has been to prove at the micro scale what is self obvious at the macro scale, which is why I used gases as the analogy. Given the advent of quantum physics, and the knowledge we have gained from it about our natural world, it is doubtful they can ever succeed in their approach. So we must live with getting as close to truth as we can, despite the fact that we may never know absolute truth.

Whereas philosophy has pretty much ground itself to a halt on the issue of truth, science has been discovering reality at an unprecedented and ever increasing rate. Each time we disprove a misperception we kill a myth, and add to our basic understanding of how everything in our Universe really works. We are getting better and better at describing what really is. We are far, far away from knowing all truth, but we're accelerating our discovery of new truth at a rate unprecidented in the history of mankind.

So many religions not only claim that there is objective truth (which I also believe), but they also claim that they have a lock on it (which is self-obviously wrong), and that they are the only religion that does. This is hubris in the extreme, and can be dismissed out of hand. It is self refuting, because it is common to the thousands of religions, and they can't all be correct. Even if one truly had it, how would you know which one it is? Your chance of picking that one is pretty slim.

I particularly like the approach taken by scientists, who understand that science never totally proves anything. They are always open to new understanding. Scientists -- as opposed to those who pretend to be scientists -- know that science can only disprove falsehoods. Scientists propose hypotheses about how something works. Then they set about to design tests to disprove it. When they have tried to disprove a hypothesis in every way they know possible, and have not been able to disprove it, that hypothesis advances from the status of something to be tested to being a "scientific theory", something that they have not been able to disprove despite rigorously trying. Because they recognize something that has withstood all attempts to disprove might someday be disproven, they don't call these theories "truths"; in deference to the concept of absolute truth. But, so long as a layperson understands the scientific method and its terms, it doesn't bother anyone other than philosophers to say that gravity, speed of light, electromagnetism, germ theory, and the like are truths that we have discovered. They are theories that explain what really is to incredible accuracy.

I don't expect the germ theories of Louis Pasteur to be overturned, and we now regard germs and vaccines are part of our body of truth; but a good scientist will always be open to the possibility that germs and vaccines could be proven false; and one test that called the theory into question is all it will take for scientists to re-evaluate. It is this willingness to correct one's beliefs when good evidence calls them into question, which is an essential to good science. It seems to me that this same willingness is also essential to good theology, and good governance.

This attitude is not in any way inconsistent with good faith. The Bible tells us to love truth; and declares that those who do not love truth will be given over to error. I believe this is as axiomatic as a mathematical axiom. As the saying goes, "Eberybody believes something." And if what everybody believes is not truth, then it has to be error.

My father, a very serious Christian, claimed that the Holy Spirit tries to lead us to truth, but if we reject what is offered, it isn't forced on us, and we are not offered additional truths. I don't know if that is true, but it sure resonates with what I observe of human nature. Those who cherish truth and search to find it gain more truth. There are many who don't much care whether something is true or not. They just want to believe what feels good to them. And they invariably are led right into error. One can be an athiest, an agnostic or a Christian, ant this is still true; and all three should intuitively know it to be so, if they just think about it. This is almost as certain as the law of gravity. It applies to the King of England, the Pope of Rome, your wife, your children, you, and your political party.

What is so distressing to me in the year 2021 is that so many of the Christian faith care so little about truth. They watch one of the so-called news channels that spews constant propaganda (intentionally misleading information) in support of "ideals and ethics" totally contrary to Christian teaching. And when you point out to them that the news they quote is not factual, they are not the least bit embarrassed that they are passing on untruths -- known in former Christian circles as lies -- and simply respond that both political sides of the spectrum lie, so why not? I guess (logically speaking) they believe that their religion and their political views need never intersect?

In the seventeenth-century battle between the Catholic hierarchy and Galileo over whether the earth revolved around the sun or vice versa, it was Galileo -- a Christian -- who understood better than his persecutors how to reconcile apparent contradictions between faith and science. "If Scripture cannot err," he said, "certain of its interpreters and commentators can and do so in many ways."

His logic was infallible: Science had discovered that the earth rotated around the sun. The theologians claimed the Bible says the sun rotates around the earth. They claimed that the Bible cannot err, so they refused to even examine Galilleo's evidence.

Most troubling is that they failed to recognize (or admit) that their reading of infallible scripture could be in error. If they refused to believe that the Bible could err, they had two choices: a.) accept that their interpretation of scripture was in error, or b.) prove that science had made a mistake. It was not sufficient to simply claim that the Bible cannot err, because they implicitly included their interpretation of scripture in their theology, and Galileo challenged them on this. In other words, Galileo was claiming that if reason leads humankind to discover a truth that seems to be incompatible with the Bible, then the interpretation of scripture should give way to the rational conclusion. This should be a theological axiom; but sadly, it is not.

In this assertion Galileo was echoing Augustine, who wrote,
"If it happens that the authority of Sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who [interprets scripture] does not understand it correctly."

Whether actually reasoned out or not, most of mankind has been guided by Gallileo's new insight. And way too slowly, Christian believers have ceased to insist that there is biblical support for the idea that the earth, not the sun, is the physical center of the universe.

This same tendancy towards slow acceptance of truth over bad theology has caused widespread, but by no means complete, abandonment of the theological heresies that it is biblical that women are property and that slavery is divinely sanctioned.

Some readers are choking over the assertions by Galileo and Augustine. But Jesus held this same belief and approach. Would you challenge Him too? Let me explain.

Most modern Christians would be surprised to know that Jesus, in his many dialogues with recognized leaders of the Scribes, Pharasees, Sadusees, and other religious sects, used logic as the basis for his refutation of their many theological errors. I will go so far as to claim that he actually expected us (and them) to abandon any theological belief that defied logic. This idea is far from original with me.

"In understanding how discipleship to Jesus Christ works, a major issue is how he automatically presents himself to our minds. It is characteristic of most 20th century Christians that he does not automatically come to mind as one of great intellectual power: as Lord of universities and research institutes, of the creative disciplines and scholarship. The Gospel accounts of how he actually worked, however, challenge this intellectually marginal image of him and help us to see him at home in the best of academic and scholarly settings of today, where many of us are called to be his apprentices."

"When I speak of 'Jesus the logician' I refer to his use of logical insights: to his mastery and employment of logical principles in his work as a teacher and public figure."
-- Dallas Willard, in "Jesus the Logician"

"Jesus was undoubtedly the Master Logician. He demonstrated unsurpassed logical prowess on every occasion."
-- Dave Miller, PhD, in "Jesus Used Logic"

"The logic or Logos of God is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity. As the personification of divine logic, Jesus is the servant of the Lord and He does not sit in judgment on Divine Truth but seeks to serve it with reverence and humility. This is the true role of human reason."

"We can use logic as a tool without being a rationalist because logic itself finds its ontological basis in the nature of the Creator of all things. In term of its nature, a particular principle of human logic is valid if it reflects the Mind of God as revealed in Scripture. Logic thus has an ontological basis and is not to be reduced to a relative and cultural psychology."

"Man was made in the image of God, and part of this image is his capacity for logical thought, which is simply thinking God's thoughts after Him. While man's understanding is finite, it is nevertheless true because it comes from the image of God within him ...."

"A close study of Scripture reveals that logic is used to convey, clarify, and defend revealed truth because it finds its own validity in God's nature. For example, the “law of non-contradiction” is rooted in the very Being of the God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2). When Paul said that God cannot both be God and a lying God at the same time, he was actually saying:

~ [ a ^ aµ ]

The rule of logic which is called 'the denial of the consequence' is used in such places as Galatians 5:18-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17, etc. In such places, Paul did not hesitate to argue:
If someone is in union with Christ, then he will be a new creature.
If someone is not a new creature, then he is not in union with Christ."< br /> -- A brief excerpt from "Exploring the Attributes of God" by Robert Morey

Not only did Jesus use logic to show what theologies were correct or incorrect, so did Paul.

"The Apostle Paul had no problem whatsoever 'reasoning' from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2; 18:4, 19, etc.). In all his writings, Paul constantly used logically valid forms of argumentation to demonstrate from the Old Testament that Jesus was the Messiah."
-- A brief excerpt from "Exploring the Attributes of God" by Robert Morey

So how do we summarize?
1.) God is the god of truth. To put it a bit differently, God is the god of what is real; the god of reality. All that is real is either God or part of his creation. He wants mankind to discover all truth -- which consequently draws mankind closer to God and to his creation. When we have discovered all truth, we will have fully discovered God and his creation. This is not nature worship, because the creation is a far cry less than the creator. But any time we reject any truth, we are to that degree rejecting God. So, there is more to salvation than repentance. There is also the journey towards all truth.

2.)Logic is to be used, as it was by Jesus and Paul, to decide what theology you believe. If it fails the logic test, it fails.

Seek truth in your journey. Don't try to discover absolute truth. Be content to find truth through rejecting that which is illogical, untrue, unreal. These practices will change your outlook, your theology, your politics, and your life.

Footnote 1: Philosophers set about to discover what we can know absolutely; and they failed miserably, until Descartes' so exquisitely claimed, "I think, therefore I am." It is self obvious that something that does not exist cannot think; but we can think, so we have to exist; otherwise we could not think. Once you think about this, it is self evident. Not much has been added since that we can know absolutely, for all time, place, and case. This thought experiment gives us one absolute truth, but would relegate lesser truths, such as all the scientific advances that have resulted from discovering the true cause of physical and biological phenomena to the category of "not truths". And this is wrong. Those scientifically discovered true causes of observed phenomena are what really is; and are, therefore, truths. Not absolute truths, not all truth, because that is God, and no man can know God. But still, in the domain of truths.

-- mof, 1-4-2021

Return to top of page