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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"All truth is relative." Or is it?

Growing up in a Christian school, I frequently heard about how atheists and secular humanists and "post-modernists" don't believe in anything or think that all truth is relative. What is it like now being on the other side? Is that how I would characterize "truth" 10 years later, and a secular humanist myself? No, simply because the word "truth" can refer to at least three types of claims:

1) Claims about the state of the natural universe
2) Claims about the supernatural / spiritual
3) Claims about morality

The idea of "relative" truth is very different for each.

Only a very small minority of people in the secular world could be considered relativists regarding truth claims of type #1. We all rely on scientific observation and logic to determine things about the universe. "The moon exists, and is primarily responsible for the tides". "I am taller than you". "The light will not turn on unless the circuit is closed." All scientific progress would be impossible without a general consensus that such claims are "objective". Their truth exists independently of any observer.

Even most claims of type 2 are not "relative."I propose that claims such as "Prayer has the power to heal," "demon possession is a real phenomenon that can be observed and cured," and "The constellation that the sun passes through in the month of your birth effects your personality and destiny" are NOT relativistic. They are absolutely objective claims about reality, and in some cases can be tested.

The 3rd bucket is only a subset of of truth claims. It includes things like "Homosexuality is wrong" "It is never OK to kill a human being" "Torture is sometimes permissible" "Testing shampoo on animals is for the greater good." This is the ONLY type of truth claim that is potentially "relative."

I once read an article by the "Christian Research Institute" that said some of the following things about what is apparently a "post-modernist" culture taking over the secular world, for whom all truth is relative:
  • "At the heart of the issue is whether or not objective truth exists."
  • "Postmodernists deny this shared reality. "
  • "Postmodernists claim we are really creating truth as we interpret."
  • "[About post-modernists] Truth claims are created by “belief communities,” not discovered by reason, observation, or revelation."
  • "In postmodern culture, it’s impossible to separate what people believe from who they are, because the act of believing something makes it true (for those who believe)"
All of these statements are really laughable misrepresentations of the actual beliefs of most of the secular world. The quotes imply the scope of those statements is all types of truth claims, instead of a very small subset: truth claims about morality. The article goes on to teach Christians how to evangelize to the post-modernist thinker, these strange beings that believe all truth is relative which apparently make up the majority of the secular world.

The fundamental mistake of lumping all types of truth claims together results in really poor advice for evangelism since it shows a complete lack of understanding of the worldview of those being witnessed to.

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