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January 15, 2016 / BTM

20 b4 twenty: What can and can’t be said about ‘Truth’



The new emphasis of the Beyond Teachable Moments blog is a concept I’ve named ‘20 b4 twenty’. 20 b4 twenty refers to the twenty most important faith-related issues I believe young people need to understand before they reach the age of twenty. This is the list of issues that we want our children to know and understand by the time they are twenty.

Over the next twenty weeks, I’ll introduce you to each of the twenty issues in the list. I will then blog more specifically about each issue in future posts in random order. This way I will be able to keep some variety in the posts, rather than trying to comprehensively cover one issue at a time.

20 b4 twenty logo

First up: Truth

I don’t think anyone can begin to purposefully build an unshakeable faith without first talking about the nature of ‘truth’. Questioning the existence, value, and know-ability of truth is a recent phenomenon in Western society and has completely upended the way we think and reason.

Can we know if truth exists? Is truth relative (true for some but not for others), absolute (ie: true for everyone, everywhere, and at all times), or somewhere in between?

This is one of the most foundational challenge that our society faces because how we answer it will shape much of the rest of our thinking around every other question we ask.

Common ideas about truth that are often taught in high school or college/university include:

“All truth is changing or in flux.”

“There is no truth.”

“Truth is a social construct.”

“Truth may exist, but we can’t know it.”

“Doubt everything.”

“No one can have an absolute understanding of truth.”

“Every belief system contains some truth.”

Where does that leave someone who has been taught, or who believes, that truth does exist? What about the absolute truth claims of Christianity – that there is only one way to God, and that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light? Are these ideas bigoted? Outdated? Untrue?

The fact of the matter is, everyone believes in absolute truth. Stating otherwise is self-defeating.

Take the first claim above: “All truth is changing or in flux.” The claim implies that no truth can be absolute because truth is always changing or in flux – it is always being reinvented as people’s ideas change. Here’s the problem: does the person making this claim believe that this statement is absolutely true? If so, it becomes an absolute truth – something that the speaker is trying to deny. If the statement isn’t absolutely true, it’s meaningless – the speaker is just stating his opinion and I do not have to accept it nor change my views based on it.

Do you see what I mean? A person making a claim such as the one discussed above actually believes in absolute truth – his absolute truth.

Each of the statements quoted above makes the same mistake. See if you can figure out how each is self-defeating (answers are at the end of the post).

What then can we say about truth?

We can say that…

…truth exists;

…truth must be absolute;

…a truth statement is different than a preference statement;

…a truth statement is different than a belief statement;

…truth does not change, but our understanding of it can change;

…something can’t be both true and not true (i.e. false) at the same time; and

…the denial of truth can only be done in theory, not in reality.

I’ll unpack these statements more in future posts.

What can’t be said about truth?

We can’t say that…

…truth is relative (true for you, but not true for me);

…all truth claims should be doubted;

…there is no truth;

…belief in absolute truth is narrow-minded;

…all truth claims are false; and

…truth can’t exist because no one has an absolute understanding of it.

Can you identify why you can’t say the statements above with respect to truth? (Use the same approach discussed above to show how they are self-refuting.)

The bottom line is: how you define and understand truth will affect:

  • What you accept and reject as true;
  • How you react to absolute truth claims (such as: Jesus is the only way to God);
  • Your ability to reject or accept various truth claims;
  • How you make decisions;
  • Your ability to know anything and to make any contribution to society;
  • Your ability to be skeptical or to doubt truth claims; and
  • Your ability to be an agnostic of truth claims.

If any of the statements above bother you, or you do not know how to respond to them, stay tuned for more posts on what we can and can’t say about truth.

How easy was it to find the self-refuting aspects of the statements above?


Answers to self-refuting statements above:

  1. “There is no truth.” Does the speaker think that his statement is true? Then it is self-defeating. If not, it is meaningless.
  2. “Truth is a social construct.” Does the speaker consider his statement to be true? Then it also is a social construct, and we do not need to consider it.
  3. “Truth may exist, but we can’t know it.” How does the speaker know that his own statement is true if truth can’t be known? If fact, learning anything becomes meaningless if this is so. It also contradicts truths that we know through science, which I doubt the speaker wishes to include as ‘unknowable’.
  4. “Doubt everything.” Including this one?  The speaker has nothing to contribute to our understanding.
  5. “No one can have an absolute understanding of truth.” This does not mean that truth does not exist. It only comments on our inability to fully understand it, which in itself is a questionable statement. ‘Truths’ known through science are unlikely to be included in the speakers list of unknowable truths.
  6. “Every belief system contains some truth.” Is this statement part of his belief system. Then at best it is only half true – can the speaker accept this?

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