Firming The Foundation of Truth- Dan Story

Posted: July 24, 2012 in Devotionals & Bible Studies
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Firming the Foundation of Truth

There is no greater threat facing the true Church of Christ at this moment than the irrationalism that now controls our entire church. Communism, guilty of tens of millions of murders, including those of millions of Christians, is to be feared, but not nearly so much as the idea that we do not and cannot know truth. Hedonism, the popular philosophy of America, is not to be feared so much as the belief that logic—that “mere human logic,” to use the religious irrationalists’ own phrase—is futile. The attack on truth, on revelation, on the intellect, and on logic are renewed daily. But note well: The misologists—the haters of logic—use logic to demonstrate the futility of using logic. The anti-intellectuals construct intricate intellectual arguments to prove the insufficiency of the intellect.1

We do well to heed this warning from Gordon H. Clark about irrationalism. Anybody can claim anything, but claiming doesn’t make it true. Anybody can believe anything, but believing doesn’t make it true. One can sincerely believe in something and be sincerely wrong. There has to be some criteria for determining religious truth if religious truth is to be known at all.2

There are such criteria, and we will spend considerable time examining them in the following chapters. But first there are two fundamental concepts that must be understood in order for this criteria to be meaningful. Together, they form the basis of all truth and knowledge.

Truth Corresponds to Reality

Truth is a fact that, by its very nature, is immutable—it cannot change. As James Sire put it, truth is “propositional: a statement is true if what it says is so is so, or if what it says is not so is not so.”3 This means that whatever is true must be in agreement with and conform to reality. What is reality? It’s what’s real—“the way things really are.”4 It is what exists independent of people’s personal opinions and beliefs. Let me illustrate this.

Let’s say I misplaced my dictionary. I think it’s on my desk (what I believe is truth), but actually it’s on the kitchen table (reality). So the truth of the situation is that the dictionary is on the table independent of my belief that it’s on the desk. Thus, truth (the location of my dictionary) corresponds to reality (where it actually is). It doesn’t matter what I believe; it’s a matter of what is true.

The “correspondence theory of truth” holds that what one thinks is true is true when it matches what is real. We possess true knowledge about something when what we think is true agrees with what exists outside our minds. If I think my dictionary is on my desk and it is on my desk, then what I hold to be true matches reality—my knowledge of the location of my dictionary corresponds to reality.

Truth, then, must correspond to reality. The alternative is that actual truth is non-existent. What people perceive as truth would depend upon their personal feelings or their particular worldview. In either case, whatever seems to be true relative to one’s particular beliefs or opinions becomes truth, and whatever does not fit with one’s beliefs is non-truth.

Obviously, if truth is bound to one’s private beliefs, it may differ from person to person or from culture to culture. This means that universal and unchanging truth is impossible to discover because it does not exist. This in turn means that statements of universal fact are also nonexistent and ultimate reality is unknowable. In short, all truth, if it exists, must correspond to reality. You may find comfort in knowing that most of science operates according to the correspondence theory of truth.5

Truth Depends on First Principles

There is a second concept that needs to be understood before we examine criteria for determining truth. There exist universal “first principles” (or “universal givens,” or “fundamental laws of human belief”) which govern how all people in every culture throughout all of history reason. (Some religions and philosophies deny the existence of these universal principles, but they live and behave as if these principles do exist.)

Examples include such concepts as I exist, other people exist, what I see exists, the past existed, there is a real, material world outside my mind, what I hear are real sounds, and the laws of nature are real and will endure. Also included are the “laws of logic,” which we will look at more closely in a moment.

It is because of these first principles that we can determine that truth does correspond to reality and that it is universally applicable. These principles are foundational to all thought and knowledge. They need no confirmation because they are necessarily true—that is, they are undeniable and self-evident. They must exist. Their veracity rests on their own premises rather than on external evidences—although they are certainly confirmed by our everyday experiences. If they needed any proof, they would not be first principles. They stand alone.

Here is an analogy that may help you to see this clearly. Everything in the universe is contingent; it depends on something else for its existence. A tree depends on minerals, water, and sunshine. Canyons depend on erosion. Living things depend on other living things from which they are born. This implies that there must be a first cause—something from which all else springs. Christians claim that this first cause, on which the entire universe rests and has it being, is God. He is, if you will, the first principle. While everything has a cause for its existence, God is self-existing. He had no cause. He has no justification for His existence because He always existed and is the source of everything else.

In like manner, universal first principles are necessarily self-existing and self-justifying. They are the “first cause” of all contingent thought and knowledge. Just as God is the ultimate source of the universe, so are self-evident first principles the foundation of all truth-claims. No truth can violate them because all truth depends upon them. If a truth-claim violates these first principles, by definition it is false.

Actually, if you think about it, I am not saying anything remarkable or anything you do not already know. We instinctively use these first principles all the time without realizing it. We just take them for granted. They are the necessary principles that govern all human reasoning and communication, and without them we would be unable not only to discern truth but also even to think.

1 Gordon H. Clark, Logic (Jefferson, Md.: Trinity Foundation, 1988), 150–51.

2 For further reading in this area I recommend two books: Dennis McCallum, The Death of Truth (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996) and James W. Sire, Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

3 Sire, Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All? 79.

4 Ibid., 221.

5 J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 118.

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