Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

Everything is relative! All opinions about God are equally valid! What is true for you need not be true for me!

What you're saying is that the following two opinions, namely
  1. "All opinions about God are equally valid" and
  2. "All opinions about God are not equally valid"
are equally valid!

Thus, your claim is self-contradictory.

Did you know: The statement that "What is true for you need not be true for me" may be true for you, but it's not true for me! So why are you preaching it to me?!

Two passengers are in a train approaching a bridge over a river. One of them tells the other: "This bridge is strong enough to support our train". The other replies: "That's true for you, but not for me!"
 
As a pluralist, you probably use the story of the five blind men to make your point. Five blind men went to check out an elephant. One felt its ears, and declared that the elephant is like a fan. Another felt its leg, and declared that an elephant is like a pillar. So each blind man had a different verdict on the elephant, and you love to declare that each person's statement is true, equally valid, and yet contradictory! Where are you in this story? Are you another blind man? Then why should we trust your judgment? Or are you the king, smiling condescendingly on the blind men? What makes you think that you are the king and everyone else is just a blind man?! How do you know that the analogy provided by this story is valid?
 
The whole idea that truth is relative is absurd. Thus, when Jesus has claimed to be the only way to God, it is absurd to respond: "That may be true for some people, but not for me". Truth is something that IS - not something that you make for yourself. So how do we know what is (absolute, ultimate) truth? Jesus Christ claimed to be the truth (see John 14:6). So go ahead, understand The Main Message that he has for you, evaluate the Evidence for God, and read the Testimonies of those who have submitted to him!
 
Further Reading:
  • Beckwith, Francus J. and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1998
  • Copan, Paul. True for you, but Not for Me. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1998 

All we can have are opinions; truth is inaccessible.

By your own logic, the claim that truth is inaccessible is just an opinion. So in effect, you have not established anything. Similar self-defeating statements include:-
  1. Truth does not exist (An important truth is that truth does not exist)
  2. Truth is relative (It is absolutely true that truth is relative).
  3. Your beliefs are just the product of your genes or cultural conditioning (what about this belief then?)
  4. Reason can't lead you towards truth (I have reasoned out that reason can't lead you towards the truth)
  5. No statement can be true unless it is an observed fact or logically follows from an observed fact (how about this very statement then?)
  6. Strong agnosticism: I know that we cannot know whether God exists (passing judgments on something on which you admit ignorance)

Conclusion: absolute truth exists, and is accessible by reason. This does not mean that by human reason we can figure out everything. But it does mean that we must use reason (guided by observation - not necessarily repeatable observation) to investigate truth - we shouldn't rely on mysticism.

Further Reading:

  • Carson, D. A., gen. ed. Telling the Truth. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2000
  • Copan, Paul. How do you know you're not wrong? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005
  • Copan, Paul. That's just your interpretation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005
  • Kostenberger, Andreas, gen. ed. Whatever Happened to Truth? Wheaton: Crossway, 2005 

In these things, ordinary people cannot investigate on their own. We must simply accept what the experts say.

There are fundamental problems with this approach:-

The experts don't agree with each other. There are experts endorsing every viewpoint out there - many of these viewpoints are mutually contradictory, and so can't be all right. Thus, most experts are wrong. The points below describe different ways in which experts often go wrong.

Experts often make stupid mistakes. A classic example is NASA's loss of the $125 million Mars orbiter in 1999 because one of their teams used metric units, and another used English units.

Experts often have bias. "Astronomers are curiously upset...by the proof that the universe had a beginning. Their reactions provide an interesting demonstration of the response of the scientific mind - supposedly a very objective mind - when evidence uncovered by science itself leads to a conflict with the articles of faith in their profession...there is a kind of religion in science..." [Robert Jastrow, founder of the Goddard Space Institute, in the Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1978, Part VI, 1, 6]. There is even an open letter written by experts protesting the bias in other experts. Yet another example: David Page and his team reported that the Y chromosomes of chimps and humans are "horrendously different from each other" [Buchen, L., The fickle Y chromosome, Nature 463 (7278):149, 14 January 2010]. What could be horrendous about chimp and human chromosomes being very different? Nothing really, unless a person has an emotional attachment to the idea that chimps and humans have a recent common ancestor. "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" and "Slaughter of the Dissidents" document the bias of experts on evolutionary theory on those who disagree with them.

Experts have vested interests - many of them make a living selling products that would have no takers if their theories were debunked. For instance: "No biochemical imbalances have ever been documented with certainty in association with any psychiatric diagnosis...their existence is pure speculation, inspired by those who advocate drugs...There are no known biochemical imbalances and no tests for them...[psychiatrists' patients] believe or hope that they are relying on seemingly objective science, in reality they are placing their faith in drug company marketing...one of the most successful public relations campaigns in history...and so are their doctors" [Peter R. Breggin, MD and David Cohen, PhD., Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 1999, p 35, 41, 4]. Similarly, the Roman Catholic authorities, supposed experts on the Bible during the Middle Ages, did not allow the common people to read it (for obvious reasons!).
 
Experts are often afraid to think independently - they instead assume that what other experts say is correct. The American zoologist Theophilus Shickel Painter was the first to count the number of human chromosome pairs - he reported 24 pairs in 1921. Of course, the correct number is 23, but no one believed it! This, despite the fact that Painter's photograph was available to other biochemists! The error was corrected only in 1956. BBC commentator Robert Matthews observes that "many ignored the evidence of their own eyes than challenge the great man... the influential American zoologist"

The majority expert opinion can be wrong: A classic example is the medical fraternity's unwillingness to agree with Dr Ignaz Semmelweis's hypothesis that lack of hygiene leads to disease. When Galileo and Copernicus proposed their scientific theories, the Roman Catholic Church opposed them because it relied on the prevailing secular expert majority opinion (Ptolemy's theory), which was later found to be false. In 1925, based on the suggestions of legal and scientific experts, Virginia enacted the "Eugenical Sterilization Act," which permitted the forced sterilization of people afflicted with "hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy." Today, most "experts" will not hesitate to call this a wrong decision.
 
Experts can be gullible: New York University physicist Dr. Alan Sokal wrote a paper that was peer-reviewed and then published [Sokal, A. 1996. Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. Social Text, #46/#47 (spring/summer 1996), 217-252] in Social Text, a journal belonging to Duke University. In a second paper [“A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies,” Lingua Franca, May/June 1996, pages 62-64], he revealed that the earlier paper was just rubbish. He was testing the "experts" at Social Text. In his latter paper, he wrote that the former was an “an article liberally salted with nonsense…[that] sounded good and…flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” This proves that experts are gullible and can endorse anything as long as it supports what they think. Another example: National Geographic was fooled by the Archaeoraptor (a supposed missing link to prove that reptiles became birds, which was later found to be a hoax).
 
This does not mean that the opinions of experts are useless - it only means that the opinions of experts should not be accepted blindly. We need to listen to them, and also use our own minds. So stick around here, read what I have to say, use your mind, and decide for yourself.

Who are we to demand evidence from God? We believe because God commands it!

God would be most unreasonable if He expected blind faith from us because this raises the unanswerable question - on which god or book should I put my blind faith? The Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, the book of Mormon, etc. all claim to be from God (and they all disagree with each other). Therefore, evidence is necessary to decide which of these is really God's message to man.

It is true that the best of evidence will not prompt some people to submit to the truth. The flaw here lies not with the principle of giving importance to evidence but with the people. If a person has an attitude problem, he will not respond to the evidence, no matter how good it is. (The Biblical term describing such people is "willfully ignorant".) To use this to demand that sincere seekers of truth should exercise blind faith is absurd. Evidence is the only logically sound reason to believe something. It is not a magic wand that will make anyone believe something.
 
Thus, looking for evidence to substantiate the claims of religious books is not arrogant but honest. The God of the Bible has proven to be merciful to us in providing so much Evidence for Him which makes it feasible for us to identify the truth.

Beliefs of the minority are bound to be false.

This is not so, because the majority has often been wrong, and the minority right. Some examples:-

  • In the early twentieth century, all scientists (including Albert Einstein) rejected quantum mechanics - except Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and Erwin Schrodinger. But quantum mechanics turned out to be true, and the overwhelming majority of scientists turned out to be wrong!
  • When Dr Ignaz Semmelweiss suggested that lack of hygiene leads to disease, he was dismissed from his hospital by the majority of doctors who disagreed with him. It was only after he died that the majority learned and accepted the truth.
  • About five centuries ago, the majority believed in geo-centricity, and the minority believed in helio-centricity.
  • About five centuries ago, the majority believed in the phlogiston theory of combustion. On the dissenting minority side were Lavoisier and a few supporters. Eventually, the phlogiston theory proved to be wrong.

Therefore, majority opinion by itself does not establish the truth. This is extremely important to realize because Jesus Christ claimed to be the only way to God, and those who follow him truly as Biblical Christians are definitely in a minority - numbering a few million, not in billions.

"Enter into the narrow gate, because wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and there are many that go through it; narrow is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there are who find it." – Jesus Christ, in Matthew 7:13-14 

Truth is determined by my personal experience - my feelings!

A true statement should certainly not contradict our experience. For instance, the Lord Jesus promises joy and peace to those who submit to him. When I submitted to him, I experienced peace and joy. If I didn't, it would prove Christ to be a liar.

At the same time it is evident that a lot of things that feel good (fast food, alcohol, drugs, smoking, etc) are not good for us. We also know that movies (which are fiction) can stir our emotions and make us feel good. This shows that whatever feels good is not necessarily true or ultimately good. Thus, doing some rituals, meditating, learning some philosophy or listening to some kind of music may make you feel good/enlightened – this does not mean that the associated religion or philosophy is true!

Truth is often beautiful, but what appears beautiful may not be true. Some physicists thought that the universe must be completely symmetric because the equations governing a symmetric universe would be beautiful. However, the universe is not completely symmetric.
 
Miraculous experiences associated with a religion/philosophy also don't establish it as the message from the Supreme Creator because it is logically possible that there are deceptive angels or demigods competing with the true God of heaven for human devotion. There is evidence that this is indeed the case.
 
Truth is determined not by mystic feelings and speculation, but by logic and evidence that is accessible to our minds.

If something seems plausible it must be true, and if it seems absurd it must be false! Bible stories are fanciful, and hence false!

No. The classification of some thing as "plausible" or "absurd" involves human subjectivity. Hence a statement may appear to be plausible to you, but prove to be false. Conversely, a statement that appears to be absurd to you may prove to be true. Let's consider examples of both.

The claims of Aristotle seemed plausible to the people of medieval Europe, so they blindly accepted them. But during the 15th and 16th centuries, the empirical method gained popularity and Europeans started doing experiments to test Aristotle. The result was that many of Aristotle's claims turned out to be false. Therefore, plausible statements can be false.

If a train plies on the railway line between Plymouth, Truro and Penzance, it cannot go from Plymouth to Penzance without passing through Truro, because Truro lies between Penzance and Plymouth. But according to quantum mechanics, an electron in an atom can do such a thing. In other words, quantum mechanics seems absurd. So does this mean that quantum physics is false? No. Our belief in quantum mechanics is a response to the evidence. Quantum mechanics does seem absurd and unfathomable to us because its predictions are so contrary to our daily experiences.Thus, something that seems absurd can be true.

"Do not keep saying to yourself, "But how can it be like that?" because you will get "down the drain," into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that." – Richard Feynman, On the apparent absurdities of Quantum behavior, in The Character of Physical Law (1965) Lecture 6 : Probability and Uncertainty — the Quantum Mechanical view of Nature

So what is the way out? When something seems absurd, see if it can be reduced to a self-contradiction. This establishes it as false. When something seems plausible, see if it is logically consistent and fits with all the available facts.This establishes it as true. Truth is determined by logic and evidence, not by what appears plausible or appealing to you.

Secular people find Genesis stories difficult to believe. Muslims find the Deity Of Christ and the Nativity incredulous. Depending on your background, the Bible and its Main Message may seem absurd, childish or parochial to you. Please do not dismiss it without serious consideration. Conversely, don't just believe something because it seems plausible to you; put it to the test.

Do we need to understand something completely to believe it?

There are very few people who understand Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism, and even fewer people who understand quantum electrodynamics. But most people of the world (including illiterates and children) use electricity. When I press the switch on, I know that electrons drift; I know that there are scientists who understand the details better than I do; I know that it is logical and reasonable, but I don't know all the details. But I do know that the light comes on, and that is what matters.

Thus, the answer to our question is: NO.

This is important, because many people don't want to commit to God unless they understand Him completely - which is not possible because He is infinite and we are finite. I sometimes do not understand
  • Why God does or does not do something
  • How exactly He does some things
But I know that:-
  1. The Bible is logical – it does not violate the law of non-contradiction
  2. The Evidence for God is conclusive, and far better than the evidence for any other worldview.
This has been enough for me to put my trust in God – and He has reciprocated by accepting and transforming me.

Are you open-minded?

If a person keeps his mouth open all the time, flies will go in and he will come across as mentally deficient. On the other hand, if he keeps his mouth closed all the time he will starve to death. The sensible, rational option is a balance in between. You open your mouth with the intention of shutting it on something good – not dirt.

Similarly, I have been open minded - not with the intention of believing anything and everything, but with the intention of finding out the truth. The Evidence for God and my personal experience with God have convinced me of the truth of the Bible. So I am no longer searching for the truth, although I still have an academic interest in any philosophy or belief system.

Are you open to the Bible?

Is it necessary to experience/research something to decide whether it is true or false, good or bad?

Think of Biblical Christianity, Islam, ecstasy drugs, reiki, voodoo, yoga, Satanism, and Roman Catholicism. I doubt if there is anyone on earth who has experienced all of these. In fact, with thousands of belief systems and practices, it is impossible for any individual to try all of them in a life-time. So do we have to be ignorant about whether all of these are right and wrong? No!

Do you need to be a smoker to learn that smoking is bad for health? No. You study what cigarettes are made of, how the body reacts to these substances, and you study existing smokers, comparing them with non-smokers. This illustrates a basic principle:-

Falsehood (or bad stuff) can be detected and established by evidence.

I know that Islam is false because of its failed authentication. Do we have to keep researching every single thing in the world like this in great detail? (If that were so, no one would have the time to find out what is true and what is false) Again, the answer is no, because of another simple principle:-

Falsehood can be detected and established by logic. If A is true and B contradicts A, then B is false.

The Evidence for Biblical Christianity establishes it as true. A cursory glance at other belief systems show that they contradict the Bible and its central person, Jesus Christ. This establishes other belief systems as false.

The Bible is the best selling and most influential book in history. Why don't you at least read it (see a reading guide here) before dismissing it?

Aren't you being disrespectful and hateful?

It's part of my job to tell students that Maxwell's beliefs about electricity and magnetism are wrong at the sub-atomic level. So far, no one has accused me of being disrespectful or hateful towards Maxwell. The reason is simple: saying that someone is wrong about something is not the same as disrespecting or hating him. We teach students that Maxwell was wrong because his theories did not match with observations, not because of any personal reason.
 
In the same way, I believe that the Bible is true, and therefore that other belief systems that disagree with it are false. This does not mean that I hate people with differing beliefs. I respect them as humans, just as I respect James Maxwell. Try to put yourself in my shoes. If you believed that there is one source of hope for mankind, and all other hopes are false, wouldn't you do everything possible to get the news to others?
 
We must also differentiate between profession and practice. When I say that the Koran advocates violence, I don't mean that all Muslims are violent - these two statements are different. When I say that Roman Catholicism is false because it does not agree with the Bible, I don't mean that there aren't any Catholics who help the poor!! Nor do I mean that the RCC is imperfect and other churches are perfect!! 
 
If you're not convinced that the Bible (or my interpretation of it) is true, that's okay. My friends include those of different beliefs. The Bible preaches the free will of individuals to make choices. So there is no question of forcing anyone.