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Faith, Truth, and Reason

The answer to the question, “What is truth?,” is easy. Truth is Reality. Truth is “what is.” Truth is a view of things as they are fully understood. Truth is knowing a thing in every possible way. Truth is being able to understand every aspect of a thing or person.

The problem of truth is not its definition, but knowing a thing or a person truly, that is, knowing it or him fully. That is, truth is knowing everything about that thing or person and its relation to every other object in the universe. Thus, to know the truth of a thing is impossible for any person, group of persons, or the entire human race from Adam and Eve to the present.

In other words, to know truth requires omniscience. And, omniscience requires omnipotence and omnipresence so that no power can hide any information anywhere in the universe.

“Ah!,” you say. You have just said that only God can know truth. “You are correct.” That is exactly what I am saying.

At one time (not so much lately), philosophers and theologians spoke of “objective truth.”  That is, truth that could be known of a thing or person, if the seeker of truth were able to accumulate information about a thing or person that was entirely free of their own or someone else’s preconceptions, biases, prejudices, assumptions, axioms, presuppositions, etc.). In philosophical terms, what is required by this approach is that one must divorce himself from his cosmology--the theory of how the universe and everything in it came to be.

But being objective in this way is impossible. Whatever one thinks, he cannot avoid his preconceptions (and all the other synonyms) with them.

So, we are back to square one, only God can know truth.

“But” you say," Jesus Christ (God in the flesh) said, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). And, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6). The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:3-5). There are many verses about this concept, so I do not need to multiply them here.

The Apostle Paul has given us the key to our quest for truth. What follows “the knowledge of the truth?” This sentence follows, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” This knowledge about Jesus is not the whole truth. It is true, but it is a partial truth. The gospel writer, John, said that “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

Now, if the world could not contain all the books about what Jesus did on earth, how much more space would be required to write about who and what the Second Person of the Trinity is?

Perhaps, you have grasped my conclusion: we cannot know truth in the sense of knowing everything about a person or thing. But God has told us that we can know some truth. We know that the Trinity consists of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We know that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We know all the information in the Gospels and elsewhere about who Jesus is and what He did. We know that everything in the Bible is true. So, we know a great deal of truth. We know truth!!

But this truth that we know is partial. The first point about truth is that we can know it, at least in the Bible. (For this limitation, see below.) The second point about truth is that we know only partial truth. Since omniscience is required to know the Reality of a thing or a person, then we can never know truth.

“But” you say, “The judge in a courtroom requires that we ‘state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Well, let us see if we can live up to that requirement.

Have you ever been in a courtroom? If not, no matter. I am sure that you have heard several people giving their view of what happened in an incident. As a physician, I used to work in emergency rooms. I would often read in the newspaper the next day about the accident that caused the injuries that I treated. I heard first hand from the victims what happened! But often, I would have to read the newspaper article carefully to be sure that the incident in the paper and that that was described to me was the same incident. Descriptions from different people vary, and the vary markedly.

Let us assume that everyone who is describing the same incident is being honest. Why the difference in reporting? I think that you know. We do not see everything in a situation. Some may be so close to it that they don’t see what happened on the fringes. Others are so far away that they don’t see details. Some see everything from beginning to end. Others may see only a few seconds. People see a situation from different angles; that will give different views. Some watchers have better memories that others. And, emotions are running very high. They always give distortions, both positive and negative.

So, no one person sees “the truth.” In fact, all the eyewitnesses together do not see “the truth”; that is, everything that happens. So, can we fulfill the requirements of the judge? Yes and no.

No, we cannot report everything that happened. Only God could do that. But yes, we can report honestly and carefully as much detail and explanation as we are able, without any intent to deceive or misrepresent. (A corollary of this point, then, is that the only truth that we can know is that in the Bible. If we cannot know everything, the only way that we can be certain of anything is if God tells us. And, He has told us a great deal in the Bible.)

This, then, brings us to my third point of truth, and also my conclusion. Truth is our best effort to know and understand anything. God requires this truth from us: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  This carefully stated commandment requires us to be honest, not to tell the truth.  It is truth from a human perspective, not the "whole truth."

So, I am done. “Wait,” you say, “You have left one important item dangling. If God only requires honesty in reporting, then we are off the hook for reporting or understanding erroneously. If we make our best efforts, then that is acceptable to God. If we are sincere, that is acceptable to God. And, while I am speaking, that makes any person’s belief valid before God, including all the myriad of religions on earth! Sincerity is all that is required.”

Ah, you have raised a great point and a great challenge. So, I am not done.

Faith Determines the Truth That I Will Accept

Augustine of Hippo said, “I believe in order to understand.” He could have said, “I believe in order to know the truth.”

There are many Christians who are evidentialists. They want to argue that facts and knowledge are prior to faith. Members of the opposing camp are presuppositionalists. Now, perhaps the most complete and strongest contention for evidentialists is the book, Classical Apologetics by R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur W. Lindsley (1984). But they begin their work with three presuppositions (page 72). This list is “evidence” that presuppositions are unavoidable and inescapable. Either one must assume that his senses and thinking are reliable or he must assume that something else is reliable and trustworthy.

In essence, this “in-house” debate is a reflection of the continuous debate of philosophers over the centuries. Does man have a priori knowledge and categories, does he “learn” a posteriori, that is, as he proceeds from infancy, or does man learn by some combination of the two? But the assumption of one of these is always prior! There is always a first principle that governs any approach to knowledge that is considered valid!

This first principle is a belief. It cannot be proved or else, by definition and application, it is not a first principle. Geometry provides a simple illustration. The student starts with axioms and then develops his proofs. René Descartes stated, “I think, therefore I am.” That was his axiom, his starting point, and his first principle.

In their article, "Biblical Epistemology” (see below) Edward Crawford and Daniel Ghormley stated, “Presuppositionalism … is manifestly false,” based upon the knowledge that every person has in Romans 1. Uh, excuse me? Have they not presupposed the truth of the Bible to make this statement?

So, Augustine was right and all the evidentialists are wrong. Again, first principles cannot require proof because they are first principles. Presuppositions are inescapable. And, since they cannot be proven, they are beliefs, not reasoned statements.

Where, then, are we in our pursuit of truth? Just here. Faith determines what I will accept as truth. Or, first principles determine what I will accept as truth. Faith is prior to a determination of truth for every person who ever lived or will live.

Reality May Have a Rude and Shocking Awakening for Non-Bible Believers

There is one final piece of the puzzle for truth. One’s first principles must be true or that person will never find truth. When I dream and wake up, I find that dream was not reality. When a non-Bible believer wakes up in eternity, he will find that his belief was not reality and that he lived his entire life as a lie.

When a doctor makes a wrong diagnosis, the patient may suffer because of his failure to discern reality. When I believe that I can beat a train to a crossing, I may die because of my belief. When some have believed that they could fly under their own power, they have had hard landings! There are innumerable events in the life of every person who have believed that something was true and Reality gave them a rude and shocking awakening.

So, while belief may determine what I will accept and act upon as true, Reality will determine whether my belief was true. Thus, my fourth point is that Reality will eventually force one to accept its own as truth. Now, you can see that Reality is capitalized because God is Truth; He is reality. Eventually, in every life, His truth will be manifest.

Where Is the Place of Reason?

A vigorous debate has always existed between the place of reason and faith in epistemology. But I have already established that faith begins the process of knowledge. Reason tests one’s first principles and establishes a system built upon those first principles. The most exact form of reason uses the rules of logic. The rules of logic allow true propositions to be derived from propositions. What is fascinating about logic if that one can reason logically and reach false conclusions--because the original propositions were false.

But there are other kinds of reasoning. Likenesses, associations, similarities, etc. can be made and conclusions derived from propositions. So, one cannot reason his way to faith; he believes and reasons from that (those) beliefs.

In philosophy, two of the tests of truth are coherence and correspondence. Using logic and other forms of reasoning, one can build a branched system to see how one’s ideas and ethics fit into the whole.

One of the greats tests of a system is a lack of contradiction anywhere. For example, how does the right to life apply to the individual, the family, the culture, and to state and national law?

Let’s consider abortion. First is definition. What is a person? Well, how about the simple definition that a person is the offspring of two other human beings. Our Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution says that every person has the right to life and that right is protected by law. Thus, the claim of a woman that she “has a right to her own body” has no application in the consideration of abortion. The child in her womb has a morally and legally protected right to life. It has the right to be raised in a family with a mother and a father. Thus, if the “mother” does not want the child, she should allowed it to be adopted. The state should facilitate this process because it protects the rights of the child. So, there is coherence in the entire system.

I realize that I have passed through many nuances that others might want to consider, such as, the issue of “person” and “personhood” and “right to life.” However, what I have said is Biblical, and the issues not only cohere, they fit another test of truth, pragmatism.

Problem #1: There are at least one million unwanted pregnancies each year. Problem #2: There are hundreds of thousands of married couples who cannot have children, but want them. By Biblical ethics, the two problems are solved. The women with unwanted pregnancies give their babies to parents who want them! What could be more pragmatic?

But because the state has violated God’s laws allowing abortion and has mistaken notions of “child-protection” and “family services,” unborn children are killed, childless marriages remain childless, and children are shuttled from family to family for months and years without a stable home. In this area, the United States has become evil.

Summary

1. Truth can be known. We do not know truth by “analogy,” as some have postulated. We can truly know truth.

2. A finite human being can only know partial truth. And, the only certain truth is that in the Bible because God has known the truth and has told us what He has wanted us to know.

3. Our responsibility is to know truth as fully as God has presented it to us in the Scriptures, and to make every effort to be honest in our thinking and reporting.

4. Reality, that is, God’s structure of the universe, will eventually make its truth known, oftentimes in this life, and finally in the life to come.

There are some other nuances on truth that need to be addressed. (1) All truth is God’s truth. (2) While truth-telling, in the sense of total truth, is impossible, nevertheless we have certain responsibilities in the process. (3) If we know only partial truth, and are so easily mistaken, why does personal and social action work so well. A corollary of this statement would be, why does modern science work so well, if it is not truth. And, why have philosophers in their naturalistic and positivist approach sought science for their answers to all of life’s dilemmas? I call this approach, “functional truth.”  These question will be answered in other posts on this website.

 


 

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