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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Relative Truth

"What is your answer to someone who believes truth to be relative?" (From discussion group on facebook.com.)

I hope you don't mind me responding to some of your comments. The thread seems to be progressing very slowly. I obviously couldn't extrapolate on Father Johnny's comments as I wouldn't know where he would go with them, but hopefully my comments will still add something useful. Please don't take this in any offensive way; I fully respect you as a sister I love and though our viewpoints may differ, I am only trying to provide light to the situation and not condemn you in any way.

You made it clear that you believe that truth is relative, however, relative truth is something that cannot be honestly rationalized. That might seem to be a strange statement to make considering that most people who cling to the notion of relative truth consider themselves to be intellectuals, however, it is quite easy to demonstrate.

Strictly speaking, any attempt to rationalize relative truth comes with an insurmountable paradox. Honest rationalization requires faithful adherence to the laws of logic. One of these is the law (or principle) of contradiction. The idea of absolute truth is really just a rewording of this law. The law of contradiction is the notion that two contradictory ideas cannot simultaneously be true. That is, there is one, and only one ultimate truth and not multiple contradictory truths. Therefore, the process of rationalization itself requires a prerequisite of the existence of absolute truth.

If the principle of contradiction is removed from logic, in essence removing absolute truth from the prerequisites of logic, we encounter a separate problem. Without this principle nothing is reliable: contradictory ideas may be simultaneously true, thus a single idea may be simultaneously true and false (additionally violating the principle of identity, another fundamental law of logic); thus, nothing is ultimately determinable and all logic is unreliable. So even removing absolute truth from the requirements of logic does not cause relative truth to be rationally determined; it simply provides that nothing can be determined, effectively destroying logic and rational thought. It could be extrapolated that because of this, logic itself is an illusion, but this comes with the paradox that you must insert absolute truth (i.e. the law of contradiction) for reliable logic to form such an extrapolation, thereby voiding that extrapolation and, for the same reason, any other potentially useful extrapolations of this idea.

At first I thought that by relative truth, you really meant relative morality. Relative morality is an entirely different creature, one which can be rationalized...provided God does not exist. However, though it may be rationally attainable, it has no positive application (unless the ability to rationalize unconditional selfishness is a positive).

I have programmed computers for about 20 years, and have become very adept at the application of logic. For about 10 of those years, I wrestled internally with merging science and religion...as they both cannot be correct if they are contradictory; one has to take precedence and I chose science. I effectively operated at the level of theistic evolutionist, but I was aware that the cruel, wasteful and ultimately ineffective god of theistic evolution was intellectually indistinguishable to no God at all (and I acted that way). I could go into gruesome detail about the destructive logic attainable from this position, but what happened afterward is more important.

It wasn't until I applied the idea that God is as described in the Bible to real life, that everything began making sense. Morality makes sense. Suffering and evil make sense. Even scientific issues make more sense. Granted, I had to discard some mainstream scientific conclusions which rely on the effective nonexistence of God like the big bang and abiogenesis, but none of those ideas are particularly useful anyway except in intellectual discussion and scifi plot lines. I've never really seen a whole lot of things I would call "mysteries" in the Bible, but that's because I've always understood that the Bible only makes sense with the understanding of God existing as described in the Bible, even during my acceptance of the god of theistic evolution. Think of it as suspension of disbelief; it's like viewing Star Trek and suspending disbelief in aliens (especially Q), except it was the Bible and I suspended my disbelief in God as described therein. (And today I can still suspend disbelief in the big bang, etc. to enjoy a scifi every now and again.)

Christianity can be brutally rational because there is no logical or scientific reason that the God of the Bible not existing holds any merit over Him existing and things really do make more sense if He does exist. But if, held as prerequisite that God does not exist (or is ineffectual as the god of an evolutionary world), good and evil have absolutely no rational basis (hence, general societal confusion on the issue) and the only brutally rational moral system of which I'm aware is hedonism. When faced with the option of throwing out a few useless scientific conclusions or throwing out all reasoning behind morality and all rational explanations for evil and suffering, I'm choosing the first and I believe I am rational in doing so.

As far as the "average Joe" is concerned, it seems to me that he's already figured out the rationality of hedonism (you can apply a nicer term here if you like, but "pleasure-seeking as the highest goal" is my meaning, not some official doctrine or anything) as that's where society seems to be heading, and with hardly a church to tell them otherwise it's no wonder. Church after church is effectively conceding that the God of the Bible does not exist by conceding to the god of theistic evolution, who is NOT the same being. Mainstream scientists (at least prevalent atheist ones) are correctly explaining to the masses how that god is worthless. And everyone is calling both the same thing, "God." I've always held that at least on an individual basis, the general public is more intelligent than many give credit, but like any information processing machine, "garbage in, garbage out."

3 comments:

Mike L. said...

Can you define what it is you are arguing against, relative truth, and provide a couple of examples? It sounds like you've developed a straw man position to argue against.

Thanks in advance for your help!

flobi said...

Considering the many definitions of truth and relative, making any definition would likely require an encyclopedia length article and none would likely be acceptable to everyone (especially proponents of relative truth, specifically because of their acceptance of such). Perhaps you could provide me a definition for relative truth about which my article does not apply.

flobi said...

I've been thinking about this a bit longer and I think that I could say that my previous comment is referencing and applies to any "relative truth" that is in any way opposed to an "absolute truth." By "absolute truth" I am referring to the concept that the entirety of existence is non-contradictory, that is, nothing in existence can be true while something contradictory is true, also to say, there is one and only one physical existence which we all share. This means, that we all live in the same world with the same configuration of matter and energy, the same information, the same overall history, the same God, etc.

Of course, interpretation of available information combined with any presuppositions can make things seem unlike they really are. There are also opinions based on personal preference, e.g. a statement like "This Dr. Pepper is delicious." (Some people may not like Dr. Pepper.) However, the fact that a person believes existence is a certain way in no way negates the actual nature of existence whatsoever.

Since we all live in the same world, there is one and only one correct religion, and by religion here, I am referring to, "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe" as per dictionary.com. I would expand this definition to include all things, not just the "universe" to include the supernatural and possibly a "multiverse" if that does, in fact, exist. Arguably, it is possible that no one has that perfectly correct religion, but some are indubitably more accurate than others. In fact, it is also arguable that no one could possibly have a complete and full "set of beliefs" of this simply for the incomprehensible size of the information necessary to form such an understanding, though I would not argue in favor of that idea.

Even to the point of what or whether god(s) exist (be it the God of the Bible, the god of evolution, Roman gods & goddesses, etc.), there is a single truth. Ignorance of that truth, that is, to the actual state of existence, does in no way invalidate the actuality of it. If the gods & goddesses of the Romans do have existence in reality (and I mean not just in literature or mythology, but as actual living beings), my ignorance of this (willful or otherwise) would not stop it being true.

There can be multiple non-contradictory truths, e.g. The chair is brown; the chair is wooden, but they are in fact only part of a larger truth, e.g. the chair is brown and wooden, conglomerating eventually with all other truths into a single ultimate truth that is the entirety of existence. Even truths such as the fact that one has an opinion are part of this. "Dr. Pepper tastes better than Coke." may not be a truth, but the fact that I think Dr. Pepper tastes better than Coke is. Same can be said of misinterpretations. That one misinterprets can be a truth even while that misinterpretation itself is not true.

Besides the possibility if she was referring to the fact that we all interpret things differently based on our tastes, presuppositions and the available information, I can think of no meaning by "relative truth" except as negation at some level or another of "absolute truth." But that would hardly have been a useful comment in the discussion of origins (origin of evil in this case) in which it was made.

I hope this has clarified your quandary. If you do have another definition for "relative truth" which you feel is relevant and not covered, please let me know and I would be happy to cover it.