What is truth?
Good day, delgadojustin2146. I accept your challenge. I’m assuming I’m defending the claim that “the absolute truth” is not “the Christian God.”
Please keep in mind I’m not trying to win this debate or prove that I’m right. I just want to state my case as clearly as I can; I want to understand where you are coming from; and I want us to understand our common ground and where our opinions diverge. (http://writingcommons.org...)
Where We Agree
You defined absolute truth as “an absolute standard by which we judge anything whether it be knowledge, morals, or metaphysics.” For now, I’ll use this definition too.
You also said that relative truth “doesn't lead to anything because it says you cannot know anything for sure but even that would require absolute truth.” For now, I’ll also use this definition.
Where We Disagree
You said, “apart from having your knowledge rooted in Christ you cannot know truth.” I have several issues with this claim:
Questions for You
You claim that “there is an absolute truth even if people do not live by it.” What do you mean by “live by it”? And what is “it” referring to?
I don’t know what you mean by “standard of truth.” I’m guessing you’re asking how I determine what is true and what isn’t. If my assumption is correct, then I don’t know how I determine what is true and what isn’t, and not all atheists share the same concept of truth or how they come to discover truth. But from the little I’ve read from my sources, defining truth is difficult, and saying “Truth is God” doesn’t make defining truth any easier (1) (2). However, since humans are fallible, I suspect that discovering truth, whatever that is, will take a lot of time and work, and I suspect I’ll have to change my mind and my perspective on things to make sure my beliefs align with whatever I conclude the truth is.
But I think you care more about how I determine right from wrong, virtue from vice, moral from immoral. I base a lot of these decisions on the Golden Rule, a maxim that predates Christianity (3).
I also base some of these decisions on the veil of ignorance, “a method of determining the morality of a certain issue (e.g. slavery) based upon the following thought experiment: parties to the original position know nothing about their particular abilities, tastes, and position within the social order of society.” “The veil of ignorance blocks off this knowledge, such that one does not know what burdens and benefits of social cooperation might fall to him/her once the veil is lifted. With this knowledge blocked, parties to the original position must decide on principles for the distribution of rights, positions and resources in their society. As John Rawls put it, ‘ . . . no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.’ The idea then, is to render obsolete those personal considerations that are morally irrelevant to the justice or injustice of principles meant to allocate the benefits of social cooperation” (4).
You said, “people suppress the truth about God through unrighteousness because what can be known about God is plain to them.” “Unrighteous” simply means “not righteous,” and the OED defines “righteous” as “disposed to act rightly or justly” and “conforming to the precepts of divine law.” Although I understand that Christians see no issue with these definitions, I see an inconsistency: acting justly and conforming to the precepts of divine law are not always the same thing.
For example, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 states,
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
Christians can’t conform to these two verses and still act rightly or justly because basing the right to speak on what sex organs a person has isn’t fair, and using what sex organs a person has to determine his or her level of intelligence isn’t an accurate way to determine intelligence.
Maybe you could argue that these verses should be interpreted a particular way, namely that all uneducated people (who happened to be women at that time) shouldn’t challenge the educated authority figures (who happened to be men at that time) while church is in session. (5) But this interpretation isn’t fair either, as I wouldn’t expect good teachers to tell their students, “Hey, only the smart kids can talk in class, and the dumb kids need to shut up and listen to me and the other smart people!”
I also have an issue with your claim that “what can be known about God is plain to [nonbelievers].” Below is a quatrain by Omar Khayyam, a quatrain that Christopher Hitchens repeatedly used in his debates and his books:
And do you think that unto such as you,
I pose the same questions to you as Hitchens posed to Frank Turek in the video I cited: since I assume we have similar intellectual capabilities, what is your authority to say you know something about God that I don’t? And how is it that your intellectual abilities are so supreme and fine-tuned that you have insight into absolute truth, but that I could read the same religious text as you do and come to a different conclusion?
You said, “People would rather believe in evolution . . . than bow to God.” Just because evolution occurs doesn’t mean that the Christian God doesn’t exist. Evolution just invalidates the Creation stories in Genesis. By the way, I understand why Christians would want to discredit evolution: Creationism is an important part of Christianity, and if Creationism can be proven false, then other fundamental beliefs about Christianity could be proven false as well; thereby making Christianity irrelevant.
You said, “People would rather believe in . . . secular philosophies that lead to absurd conclusions than bow to God.” Could please give an example of one of these absurd conclusions?
You said, “Only in Christianity can you account for logic, meaning, ethics, reason, truth, etc.” and “The only true way to account for anything in existence is through God.” Could you please supply the evidence that these claims require?
I said, “I don't know how I determine what is true and what isn't,” and you responded by saying I “would have to know that statement to be true or else [I am] just saying nonsense.” My claim and your response to it describe a paradox, “a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true. Most logical paradoxes are known to be invalid arguments but are still valuable in promoting critical thinking” (1). I am well aware of the paradoxical nature of my claim, and I am content with it. If you’re not, please explain why. (Also, please keep in mind that we both have used many paradoxical statements thus far in this debate, but I’d rather not spend the remaining two rounds detailing those paradoxes unless it’s absolutely necessary.)
You said, “When I say truth is God I am saying that only through Christ can anyone reach truth about anything. Not through autonomous reason.” What do you mean by “only through Christ can anyone reach truth about anything”? Since some people reach truth “through Christ” and others don’t, doesn’t that mean that we all, regardless of our religious beliefs, use reason autonomously? If not, then doesn’t that mean your omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God chose for some of us to disregard his Bible and the testimonies of his followers? (2)
You said, “All the treasures of wisdom are hidden in Christ.” I have no problem with people treating their religious texts as allegorical (3), as I enjoy reading and studying some of the Biblical stories, such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Crucifixion of Jesus. Where you and I diverge is that I don’t treat any religious or other fictional texts as literal, I don’t devalue the opinions of others just because they base their opinions on books I’m unfamiliar with, and I don’t view the books I read and study as superior to other books.
You said, “[People] don't ‘find’ truth. God doesn't make us figure Him out, He has always been revealed.” Let’s assume for this argument that the Christian God does exist, that he created people in his own image, that he inspired men to write the Bible as they were writing it, and that the Bible contains the only truth we would ever need. We would still have to figure out and discover the truth because we humans are feeble, fallible, self-centered creatures trying to survive a volatile reality.
You said, “Truth isn't dependant on anyone's beliefs. It would just BE and we would have to conform to it which is what God commands.” I mostly agree with your claim here, except for that “which is what God commands” part.
You said you weren’t “really concerned with morality but unbelievers have no basis to make moral judgements. They can definitely make them but they have no way of proving those morals truly are right or wrong since they would be relative.” First, the term “atheism” refers to a disbelief in God and other supernatural beings. (4) You may be getting confused because, to me, the term “God” refers to a supernatural being, so when I say I’m an atheist, I’m saying I reject his existence. But to you, this term means “an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent being,” “the One object of supreme adoration,” “the source of all morality,” and “the Truth.” So when you and other Christians hear that someone is an atheist or nonbeliever, you all most likely assume that that person also rejects morality, virtue, and truth.
And as far as morality is concerned, my morality is mostly based on secular humanism, “secular” simply meaning “not connected with religion,” and “humanism” meaning “any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate,” and “a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world.” Several humanist manifestos and declarations have already been published; you should read through some of them if you haven’t already (5).
You said, “People can appeal to other gods [to make moral judgments or truth claims] but then we would question that entire religion/worldview to see if it accurately gives an account for truth which only Christianity does.” How is Christianity the most accurate account for truth?
You said, “Instead of recognizing God's epistemic lordship we choose worldly philosophies that lead to absurd conclusions. When I say worldly I mean secular philosophies such as nihilism, naturalism, humanism, existentialism, etc. All secular worldviews deny absolute truth.” These particular philosophies don’t deny absolute truth. Indeed, nihilists typically believe that life has no mean. Naturalists, that only natural laws and forces exists. Humanists, that humans are the most valuable. And existentialists, that each human is responsible for his or her own actions and worldviews. All of these beliefs are essentially absolute beliefs. Even the belief that relative truth is the only truth that exists, is itself an absolute, paradoxical belief.
You said, “We elevate ourselves to God's position and actually think that our reasoning is the standard of truth.” Aren’t you elevating your position to God’s position by stating your stance on this truth issue is superior to other people’s stances? And aren’t you using reason to prove that your stance is the standard of truth?
You said, “God reveals Himself to everyone since we are created in His image.” How does he reveal himself to everyone? How has he revealed himself to you? Why is it, and how is it, that some people notice this revelation and others don’t? I’m genuinely interested. Although I’m an atheist now, I’m still open to the possibility that I could change to a theist. I need to know what to expect just in case he reveals himself to me.
“We choose to believe in autonomous reason rather than God's self attesting authority. When we attempt to disprove Him we rely on His logic and reasoning. . . . The reason why I believe in God and you don't isn't because of intellect. From birth we were both totally depraved sinners who deserved God's wrath but God will save people through grace and give them faith. . . . Grace is a gift. He gives to whom He chooses to and it is fair. . . . So it isn't that I'm smarter than you it is only because I have been given grace. It is a fearful knowledge of God where i recognize Him as lord. Which is why I start these debates to hopefully lead the unbeliever into repentance.”
So, to be clear, intellect and reason isn’t what got you to believe in Christianity, but you want to use intellect and reason, through debates, to get nonbelievers to believe in the same thing as you do?
You said, “there has never been a recorded incident in history where an organism mutated into another totally new organism. . . . There is also the problem with irreducibly complex parts. But the major problem with evolution is that it doesn't give an account for epistemology.” You have grossly misunderstood what evolution is. Evolution isn’t supposed to account for knowledge; the theory simply explains how simpler organisms evolve into more complex organisms. Please review the sources I’ve cited (6; 7).
If you don’t mind, and if I’m not being too condescending, I’d like to end Round 4 with two tips for you: in the future, you need to break large paragraphs into smaller ones because people find smaller paragraphs easier to read (8); and please use evidence, citations, and endnotes/footnotes to support your claims (9).
Until Round 5,
2. I'm saying that unless Christ is your starting point of truth you do give into autonomous reason and cannot know anything since autonomous reason leads to foolish conclusions. God does make it so that He is revealed to us by our 5 senses and reasoning. I'm saying that God can reveal himself to us by our reasoning so that we can know things for certain so that we give up autonomy and use God as our starting point for truth and knowledge instead of claiming that our autonomous reasoning is the source of truth. My reasoning is rooted in Christ, it is not autonomous. And yes God does choose who will believe in Him and who won't since it takes believing in Christ to be forgiven. That "saving" grace is a gift and He gives it to whom He chooses. Everyone deserves hell and that is why it is a gift since He doesn't give it to us based on what we deserve. Some people will never believe and that is because God never gave them grace.
"8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" Ephesians 2:8
3. What do you treat is as? You still rely on your autonomous reason who give an account for what truth is. I place my reasoning in the word of God and argue for His objective standard. When you argue through autonomous reason you are saying that you are the end all say all to what is true. How do you know your reasoning is valid?
4. God does command that we follow His commandments and base our reasoning after His. I'm not assuming He exists. He does. I'm arguing for the impossibility of the contrary. You can't make sense out of anything unless it is God. You still have yet to say what your standard of truth is. If you say it is YOU then I would ask how you know your reasoning is valid.
5. I wasn't saying that you reject morality, virtue, or truth. I'm saying you don't have a rational basis to make those judgements. I've done research on humanism. It puts man at the center and says that through man come true norms and values. It focuses on the welfare of humans and compassion. The problem with humanism is that they have no rational foundation for their values. Values become preferences rather than principles. How would they ever know those are true values? By consensus? That wouldn't prove anything. How would you ever prove those values mean more than the values of a very hateful person who doesn't believe in compassion?
6. To explain Christianity that way would take very long. It would be a shorter list to just ask you how you can give an ccount for truth AT ALL. What is your rational basis for truth?
7. "All of these beliefs are essentially absolute beliefs. Even the belief that relative truth is the only truth that exists, is itself an absolute, paradoxical belief." It isn't paradoxical it is contradictory. What is there absolute source of truth? They are absolute beliefs but they are not absolutely true. Relativism refutes itself. It is absolutely sure that nothing is absolutely for sure.
8. I'm not elevating myself to God's position or using my reasoning to prove truth. I put my complete reasoning in God so everything I argue isn't coming from me. I'm arguing for God's position using God's words. I'm not arguing for my own position.
9. He reveals Himself to all since we are all on His earth and we are all in His image. The morals and reasoning we attempt to use everyday are His even though we warp them into our own morality and reason. He has revealed Himself to me by grace. Many people hear the gospel and many people hear these truth arguments but only the ones whom God grants grace to will be able to understand them. How can you give a rational account for anything you know or anything around you unless you start with God?
"18For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." 1 Corinthians 1:18
No one can refute these arguments. Everyone trust in their own reasoning instead of trusting in God which is why I ask how do you know your reasoning is valid? There is no one wise enough or smart enough to disprove God. They'd be using His logic to do so while living in His universe.
As it is said, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." Hebrews 3:15
10. I only use intellect and reasoning in my debates since evolution can't account for them. When people attempt to use logic to disprove God i want to know how they can account for logic without Him. And if evolution doesn't account for epistemology how can you know anything?
Thank you for providing the sources to your argument. However, there is a major issue with the sources you chose: I do not view the Bible as much of an authoritative source as you do (1; 2). So, in the future, if you are debating against anyone who doesn’t view the Bible the same way as you do and you use Bible verses to support your claims, then you also need to prove why a non-Christian should view the Bible the same way as you do. And just in case you don’t know, you can’t use Bible verses to prove to a non-Christian why the Bible is an authoritative source (3; 4; 5), and you can’t use fear (6). You may also want to research the appeal-to-faith fallacy (7).
Speaking of faith, you may want to reconsider using debates, intellect, and reason to sway nonbelievers. A verse I hear many Christians tout is Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Assuming that “faith” means “believing in something for which we know there is no good evidence” (8), and that many Christians value faith more than they do reason (9), I think you shouldn’t even engage in these types of debates and conversations if you’re unwilling or unable to suspend your faith during these exchanges.
Again I say, you seem not to know what evolution is. It’s fine if you want to argue that non-Christians and atheists have no way to prove knowledge and truth; you would, of course, have to explain the claim and support it with evidence if you want your opinion to accept your claim as true. But from here on out, don’t argue that evolution doesn’t account for knowledge and truth. Evolution isn’t supposed to do this, and anyone who knows a little bit more than you do about evolution will understand that the theory isn’t meant to account for epistemology. As I said during Round 4, evolution simply explains how simpler organisms evolve into more complex organism over time.
After reading five rounds of your arguments, I still don’t know what you were getting at with that “absolute truth” thing. But to end this debate on a promising note, I want to share with you an excerpt from an e-mail exchange I’m having with one of my friends:
My friend asked,
Can humans flourish (or even survive) without an objective moral standard? If everyone determines his or her own measure of right and wrong, how can we expect to hold educated discussions and make important decisions? We have no common foundation.
I responded with the following:
Well, I use the Rogerian Argument Technique (10) and T. Edward Damer’s Intellectual Code of Conduct (11) to help me have intellectual discussions. And I use the Golden Rule (12), John Rawls’ veil of ignorance (13), and the social contract theory (14), along with the other two aforementioned methods, to help me determine right from wrong. (This list isn't all inclusive.) Using these five techniques/theories can help people with different worldviews find common ground and discover truth and morality.
As for an objective moral standard, I don’t know if humans can survive and flourish either with or without adhering to this standard, whatever that standard may be. But I do know the human species won’t survive or thrive if we don’t
utilize the aforementioned five techniques/theories,
I derived these stipulations from some of the humanist manifestos and declarations (15).
delgadojustin2146, I wish you well.