Does Objective Truth Exist, and How Can It Be Defined?

Does Objective Truth Exist, and How Can It Be Defined?

Written by J. Warner Wallace |
Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Let’s accept the reality that there IS a singular truth about the nature of God, so we can truly begin to search for it. Then, let’s earnestly begin the search. If we are unwilling to even accept the premise that there IS an objective truth, we will never begin the search that will eventually lead us to God.

For some of us, it might seem ridiculous to say that truth does not exist, because we have simply assumed the reality and existence of “truth” since we were very small. But others out there have struggled with the idea that there can be singular, exclusive truth in all areas of life, and if you ask your friends to talk about issues of faith, you will quickly discover that few of them are able to agree on a singular, objective truth. In fact, many of us have come to the conclusion that there is no one truth about anything. And when we say that nothing is objectively “right” or “true,” we are actually saying that EVERYTHING is “right” and “true”! If no one particular idea or reality is true to the exclusion of others that are NOT true, then we have to admit that every idea, notion or reality is equally valid and “true.” Something in our intuition tells us that this simply cannot be the case.

Now we may disagree on the nature of truth at the spiritual level, but it’s hard to deny objective truths at the physical level. As I step out into the street, it’s either true or untrue that there are cars racing back and forth in front of me. I make a decision to step out based on the truth that I observe and recognize. If the street is busy with cars speeding back and forth, it is not both true and untrue that I can safely step into traffic. If I do step out, I will not be both dead and “un-dead” as a result of the truth of the situation. The street is either filled with cars or it is not. It is either safe to cross or it is not. BOTH realities cannot exist at the same time. One truth must exist at the exclusion of the other.

Let’s put it another way. As I leave the restaurant tonight and enter the restaurant parking lot, I will need to find my way back to my car.  While there may be other similar vehicles in the parking lot, only one of them is mine; only one of them belongs to me. My key will only fit in one door. If I am caught trying to break into a similar car, I will not be able to tell the police that this other vehicle is both mine and not mine. There is a singular exclusive truth about the car involved here. It is either mine or it is not!

But while exclusive truth seems rational and acceptable in the material world, some people have a much harder time accepting the possibility of objective, exclusive truth when it comes to spiritual matters. For these folks, there exist any number of diverse and divergent truths about God and even more possible paths to this God, all of which are said to be true at the same time! But it’s important for us to take a deep look at this claim of diversity and religious pluralism. We need to remember that the world’s greatest (and even not so great) religions don’t make the same claims about God and the nature spiritual reality. And it’s not just a matter of each religion adding something to the larger picture. Each of the world’s religious systems makes claims about the nature of God (and life after death) that are diametrically OPPOSED! The world’s religions simply don’t agree with each other! Buddhism claims that there is no personal God, while Christianity argues that there is a personal God. Judaism claims that Jesus was simply a man, while Christianity claims that he was God Himself! Islam encourages its followers to eliminate and destroy all infidels, while biblical Christianity encourages its followers to love their enemies. These notions are very different and very opposed and they are only a few examples of the literally thousands of points at which world religions disagree. It is fair to say that ALL of these world religions may be wrong about what they believe (each system must make its own case), but it is simply crazy to say that all of the world’s religions are correct at the same time; their truth claims are opposed to one another! In spite of this obvious conflict in spiritual truths (or perhaps because of this conflict), the world around us is making a couple of claims about the nature of truth.

Truth Does Not Exist
First, the world tries to tell us that objective, objective truth simply does not exist. This is an “ontological” issue. “Ontology” relates to the nature or essence of “being.” The claim here is that ALL truth is “perspectival” in nature. In other words, all truth depends on your perspective! What may be true for one person may not be true for another; it really simply depends on your point of view.

Truth Cannot Be Known
Secondly, the world around us is also making the claim that even if objective, objective truth does exist, we could never know with certainty what that truth is. This is an “epistemological” issue. Epistemology relates to the nature of “knowing” or being able to know something. The claim here is that we simply cannot trust our human mental faculties to tell us what we need to know to come to a conclusion about any truth we are examining.

For many great philosophical thinkers in history, understanding truth is elusive enterprise based on both its nature and our ability to comprehend it in the first place. But let’s take a close look at both of these concerns about truth. To say that truth does not exist is to simply make yet another truth claim and this nullifies any claim against the existence of truth, does it not? And to claim that all truth is “perspectival” in nature is to once again make a claim that you want others to believe is NOT simply coming from your own perspective. When someone says that all truth depends on your point of view, they want us to believe that this statement is true and not simply their point of view! See the problem? And to say that we simply cannot know the truth, even if it exists objectively, is to once again make a self-refuting claim. How can we know that we cannot know? If certainty is impossible, then how can we be certain that certainty is impossible? Are you starting to understand the silliness of all of this?

Truth is rather brutish in the way that it imposes itself on our lives. It’s like a safe dropping from a ten-story building; we either step aside or get crushed. While we may not know all that can be known about something, and while we may all have a distinct perspective about an issue, to deny the existence of truth or the sufficiency of our own knowledge of truth is to begin a series of silly mental experiments. At the end of the day, if we look up and see the safe falling, we are probably going to find ourselves stepping out of the way.

Now not everyone takes this rather common sense approach to truth. Great philosophers through the ages have at times also been great skeptics:

Andre Gide
Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

Molly Ivins
I believe that ignorance is the root of all evil. And that no one knows the truth.

Albert Einstein
Truth is what stands the test of experience.

Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books, believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.

So how did we get to this place in our world where so many great thinkers distrust anything that is claimed as truth? How did we get to the point where we trust nothing and, at the same time, embrace everything? Let me tell you about my grandmother. She never had any doubt that there was a singular truth. She grew up in Naples, Italy and spent her early life in a world of common dreams, common values, common faith, common enemies, common holidays, and common lives. In a place like this, everyone agrees on what is true and what is a lie, at least when it comes to the major worldview issues. But my grandmother eventually migrated to the world’s greatest experiment in multi-culturalism: the United States. There is no other country in the history of mankind that has tried to blend so many different people with so many different backgrounds. Here, my grandmother had to confront the realization that there is more than one way to consider the world. She found herself in a place where few people agreed about ANYTHING. But she learned quickly that disagreeing about truth is not the same as believing that there simply is no truth to argue about; disagreeing about the truth does not mean that truth cannot be known.

How can we, as individuals, trust that the knowledge we hold is actually true? What is “knowledge” in the first place and how is “knowledge” related to “belief”? Well, philosophers have been thinking about this for some time and the traditional analysis of knowledge is usually described in the following way:

Knowledge=Properly Justified True Belief

Now, what exactly does this mean? It’s important for you and I to understand this simple little equation because our knowledge of ALL things (including our knowledge of spiritual matters) comes down to whether or not we hold properly justified true beliefs. So, let’s examine the definition more precisely, starting backwards from the definition of “Belief” to the definition of “Knowledge”:

Let’s face it; you can’t “know” something unless you “believe” it. I can’t “know” that there is a God unless I believe that God exists. But my belief is simply not enough; it is insufficient. You and I can both believe things that are simply untrue. It is possible for us to have false beliefs. And people who believe something that is false often think that they KNOW it. But there is a difference between “believing” and “knowing” in this context. You may “believe” something that is false, but you can’t genuinely “know” something that is false. Now think about this for a minute. We may “know” OF something that is false, but what we “know” is that it IS false! To actually “know” something is to “know” that it is TRUE. And you and I can’t actually “know” something to be true unless it actually IS true. In other words, we can’t “know” something unless it is NOT false.

Most of us like to think that we hold the truth, yet when someone presses us to define what truth is, we might have a hard time trying to define it. How do we determine when something is true? Over the centuries a number of theories have emerged related to assessing, apprehending and understanding truth:

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