Guest host Seth Baker responds to three competing views on the nature of truth and shares how views of truth affect evangelism and apologetics.
Listen to “Episode 162: Attacks on Truth: Responding to Skepticism, Relativism, and Scientism” on Spreaker.
Seth: Welcome to the veracity Hill podcast where we are striving for truth on faith, politics and society. My name is Seth Baker and I am privileged to be your guest host on the program today. The topic of today’s show is attacks on truth, responding to skepticism, relativism and scientism. The topic for today’s show is geared more towards the apologetics beginner. So if you are new to apologetics, if you’re just getting started in learning how to defend the Christian faith, then I hope that you will learn a lot of valuable information in today’s episode. On the other hand, if you are more of an apologetics expert, if you’ve been around the block a few times, I’m still hoping that you might hear a good argument against some of these conflicting views on the nature of truth and how we come to know truth and might pick up something that you can add to your argument Arsenal in defending the correct view of truth. So with all that said, if you have any questions at all, it’s not a live show. It’s pre recorded. But if you have any questions in the topic, or as we go through the topic of today’s show, feel free to text them to 555888. And we’ll get back to you.
Seth: I wanted to introduce today’s topic with reading a little bit of Scripture. So I’m in the book of John chapter 18. And I’ll be reading verses 37 through 38. Then Pilate said to Him, so you are a king. Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose, I’ve come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. Pilate said to Him, what is truth? There is undoubtedly no greater question a person can ask than the one that Pilate asked, what is truth? But before we can answer the question, what is the truth? We have to have some concept of what truth even is? Is there any such thing as truth? is truth? Just a matter of personal opinion or preference? Are only statements that can be scientifically proven candidates for truth? Is truth knowable? Or will it forever evade our grasp? These are the questions that we will be trying to answer. In today’s podcast and the first part of today’s podcast, we will consider and critique three competing views on the nature of truth and how we can come to know truth. And the second part of the podcast, we’re going to take a look at the so called correspondence theory of truth and defend that. And finally, in the third part of the podcast, we’re going to look at truth as it relates to Christian apologetics and sharing the gospel.
Seth: The first view of truth on the table is what we’ll call radical skepticism. And it’s summarized well by the postmodern author John Caputo who writes this. The truth is that there is no truth. Radical skeptics then believe that it is true that there is no truth. But let’s wait a minute. Let’s read the puto statement one more time slowly, see if we can make sense of it. The truth is that there is no truth that even a coherent statement. No, it’s not. Because the statement defeats itself. In the words of Gregory Koukl. It has within it the seeds of its own destruction. The philosopher JP Moreland explains what makes this statement self defeating writing this, when a statement includes itself within its field of reference and fails to satisfy itself, it is self refuting. For example, there are no true statements, I do not exist, and no one can utter a word in English, uttered in English are all self refuting. If they are false, they are false. If they are assumed to be true, what they assert proves them false. Either way, they are necessarily false.
Seth: As Morland points out, as soon as we take a self refuting statement to be true, it’s proven false. In simpler words, it saws off the branch that it was sitting on. self defeating statements are often easy to identify. But sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they appear that they could be true until you apply them to themselves that is, so listen to these following examples of self defeating statements. You might have heard some of them before, and I’m going to offer some possible responses you can give to them. So someone says to you, there are no absolute truths. How are you going to respond? Well, you could simply ask a question and apply the statement back to itself and ask, is it absolutely true that there are no absolute truths? Or say another person asks, or states Excuse me? It’s wrong to try and change people’s beliefs to wonder what they’re trying to do there? Seems like they’re trying to change your belief Beef about changing people’s beliefs.
Seth: So you might ask, are you trying to change my belief about changing people’s belief? If it’s wrong to do that, then why are you trying to do that to me? Or another one, you shouldn’t impose your views on others? Isn’t that person trying to impose their views on you? If they’re doing that, then they must be doing something wrong or another one, we can’t be certain about anything. Maybe we get asked them, Are you certain we can be certain about anything? Are you certain about that? Another one, don’t trust what anyone says? Well, it’s a wonder if we should believe that statement or not. Because they’re a person. And apparently we shouldn’t trust when people say, so should I trust that statement that they just made? And finally, it’s intolerant to tell people that they’re wrong? Well, I guess they’re trying to say that were wrong for saying that another person is wrong. But that ultimately defeats itself. If it’s intolerant to tell a person that they’re wrong, and they’re telling you that you’re wrong, then they’re being intolerant. So while these statements don’t, maybe at the outset, look like they’re self defeating. As soon as you apply them back to themselves, you can see that they’re necessarily false. The view that there is no truth is pretty clearly false.
Seth: I think we’ve got that down. But the question of what is truth is still on the table. So according to the second view of truth we’re considering truth is relative to individual persons. Hence, the views name of relativism. relativist say that all truth is a matter of personal taste and opinion. So what is true for one person isn’t necessarily true for another, rather than being hard and fast. Truth is like a person’s preference for chocolate or vanilla ice cream, or ketchup or mustard. So I can prefer chocolate, or I can prefer ketchup, and you prefer vanilla and mustard. But neither of us is wrong about what the best flavor of ice cream is, or what the best condiment is. And the same goes for all truth statements, and not just mere matters of taste. And for the Muslim, it’s true that Jesus is only a prophet and not the Son of God. But for the Christian, it’s true that Jesus is the Son of God. And it’s true for the Hindu that there are a plurality of deities, and it’s true for the Jew, that there’s only one deity. So this view is pretty inclusive. That’s exciting, right? There’s lots of room for people being right. Everybody can be correct in their beliefs, because truth is just determined by the individual. But I think we can immediately see that something doesn’t seem right about this view. Is it really the case that everybody can be correct in their beliefs? No. And here are several reasons why. So the first reason why relativism is false is that two people often hold conflicting and contradictory views about the same subject. So a moment ago, I said that Muslims believe that Jesus is not the Son of God, and Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. So if truth is just determined by people’s beliefs, then it would be true and false that Jesus is the Son of God, which clearly makes no sense, right? Because two opposing statements can’t be true at the same time, and in the same way. This is a fundamental law of logic known as the law of non contradiction. So a statement S and its negation, not s cannot both be true. Either s is true, or not S is true, but they can’t both be true. So for example, either George Washington was the first president, or George Washington was not the first president. Only one of the statements can be true, and they can’t both be false. So because it violates a fundamental law of logic, the law of non contradiction, relativism fails.
Seth: The second reason why relativism is false is that it implies that no one ever holds a wrong belief about anything. And that sounds pretty odd. So the person who believes that taking rat poison is a good treatment for a headache on relativism is just as correct as the person that believes taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen is a good treatment for headache. But clearly, the person that takes rat poison is wrong. That’s crazy. And the person that takes Tylenol is corrected, that’s a good treatment for a headache. But on relativism, if people’s beliefs are the determination of what’s true, then they’re both correct. But any rational person, I think, concede that that’s not the case. The third reason why relativism is false is that it implies that scientific and moral progress are impossible. If everybody’s beliefs are already correct, then what’s the use in trying to discover more about the physical world? We already know it all right, because if our beliefs determine what’s true, then everybody is already correct about their view of the universe and about the Earth and other scientific matters. If relativism is true, Flat Earthers and segregationists are just as right as people Will that hold that the earth is a sphere, and that racism is evil? We see. However, I think immediately that it is rational to strive for scientific progress and for moral progress because those things really are possible. Wasn’t freeing the slaves, giving women the right to vote and creating child labor laws, moral progress, and wasn’t landing on the moon creating the polio vaccine and formulating the general theory of relativity, scientific progress. Those definitely were not progression scientifically and morally. And because that’s the case, relativism is false. Fourthly, and finally, relativism is false and pretty funny, I think, because people believe that relativism is false. If our beliefs determine the truth, and somebody believes that relativism is false, then they’re correct. So if relativism is true, then relativism is false. So clearly, relativism cannot be a correct view of truth because it’s self defeating. So with that, let’s move on to our third and final view of truth that we’re going to be considering on the podcast today. According to the third view on the table truth is something that can only be discovered through the operations of the physical sciences. This view is known as hard scientism positivism or verification ism.
Seth: And to clarify, Proponents of this view, don’t just think that science is a way to truth or the best way to truth, but the only way to truth. In fact, if a statement isn’t scientifically verifiable, then it’s literally meaningless. It’s like baby talk. And this is because people that hold to this view embrace a radical position known as the verifiability criterion of meaning. The philosopher of science Delvin Ratzsch helps to clarify the criteria in writing this, according to that criterion, no statement is even meaningful unless either it is in principle possible to empirically verify it, or at least to test it or else it is analytic. On this view, it isn’t that principles which are neither empirically testable nor analytic are merely unscientific or irrational, but rather that they say absolutely nothing about the world at all. They are literally meaningless baby talk, like I said earlier. So let me break this down just a little bit further. An analytic statement is something that is true by definition, like triangles have three sides, the square root of nine is three and all bachelors are unmarried. And an empirically verifiable statement is something that can be possibly proved by the use of one of our five senses. So for example, the statement Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, Mars has two moons and Mount Everest is over 29,000 feet tall are all empirically verifiable statements. So on hard scientism, positivism or verification ism, only analytic in scientifically, verifiable statements are meaningful. It’s important to emphasize just how radical of a position this is, because Proponents of this view, don’t just think that statements that can’t be empirically verified, or aren’t analytic aren’t merely false. They’re devoid of meaning altogether. So this would imply that propositions like God loves me, human beings have immaterial souls, and Jesus died for our sins aren’t just false, but that they’re no better than gobbledygook, incoherent gibberish. So just think, what kind of scientific tests would you devise to prove that angels and demons exist? Would you find the truth of that statement through a microscope or a telescope? Or by mixing some chemicals together? Of course not. So if this view is the correct view of truth, then Christians are in very hot water because Christianity would be necessarily false. The good news is that there’s many different reasons for believing that verification, ism, positivism, or whatever you want to call it, is false.
Seth: And the first reason is that it’s arbitrary to demand that all statements be scientifically verifiable. So for example, aesthetic propositions and moral propositions like that rainbow is beautiful, and it’s wrong to torture people for fun. While they’re not scientifically verifiable, they’re clearly meaningful. So it seems really counterintuitive to limit truth to only that which is analytical or scientifically verifiable. And secondly, the position that all meaningful statements must be scientifically verifiable, isn’t itself scientifically verifiable. And that makes sense because it’s actually a criterion of language. It’s a theory of language and not a theory of science. So in the same way, you can’t prove the proposition God loves me by conducting some scientific experiment. You can’t prove the proposition. All meaningful statements must be scientifically verifiable by conducting some scientific experiment. So the position like the other two that we’ve seen, defeats itself. The philosopher Paul Copan writes this. There’s just no way science can show that All beliefs should be scientifically provable behind this allegedly scientific standard, our philosophical presuppositions that aren’t themselves scientifically verifiable. So upon some further analysis, we see that this view isn’t a scientific one, but a philosophical one, and is therefore empirically unverifiable. So like the other two views we’ve already considered, scientism ends up shooting itself in the foot, and this of course, immediately disqualifies it as a theory of truth.
Seth: Thirdly, this view is false because it ironically ends up being anti science. So if being self defeating, or in enough, hard scientism is ironically, incredibly anti science, some of our best theories involve appealing to theoretical entities like genes, electrons and quarks. Heart scientism thus commits us to an extreme anti realism about these entities because we can’t directly observe them. And it leaves us without a sand a sound explanatory mechanism for many phenomena we find in the physical world, postulating unobservable entities or forces, something that dispute prohibits is an essential part of the scientific enterprise. Fourthly, and finally, this view is false, because we couldn’t even do science without certain unprovable philosophical assumptions. So for example, before we do science, we have to assume that our five senses give us reliable information about the external world, and that the laws of nature will continue to hold into the future. So the reliability of our senses and the uniformity of nature, are both things that must be taken for granted in order to make science possible. scientism hard scientism with its anti philosophy bend, thus destroys the philosophical foundations of science. We’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. But after that, we’re going to talk about the correct theory of truth and see how it affects the ministry of giving reasons for the faith.
Seth: Thank you so much for sticking with us through that break. We’re gonna go ahead and jump right back on in. So radical skepticism with its denial of truth, relativism with its personalization of truth, and hard scientism, with its physical limitation of truth, all fail as rational positions on truth. So we move on now to consider a particular theory which is the correct theory of truth in my opinion, and that is the so called correspondence theory of truth, and then we’re going to subsequently see how it affects the ministry of giving reasons for faith in Christ. In their book the love of wisdom. Stephen Cohen and James Spiegel describe the correspondence theory writing this, the correspondence theory of truth might be said to be the ordinary or common sense view of truth that most people assume in everyday usage. The idea behind the correspondence theory of truth is that true statements are true in virtue of their matching up with or corresponding to the way things actually are in reality. So on the correspondence theory, truth does not depend on an individual’s taste or opinions, but on the nature of the world. And that seems to make perfect sense. The statements Dallas is in Texas Water freezes at zero degrees Celsius and Coca Cola is a kind of soda are all true because they match up with or correspond to the way things things really are in the world. And conversely, the statements Dallas’s in Scandinavia, water doesn’t freeze at any temperature. And Coca Cola is a species of walrus are all false because they do not match up with or correspond to the way things really are in the world. The correspondence theory of truth finds its origin all the way back in the writings of Plato and Aristotle.
Seth: And while they might have been the first to formulate or write down this theory of truth, they definitely weren’t the first to operate with it. Because it’s such a common sensical view, it’d be really hard to believe that this view isn’t just shared by most people everywhere. So at this point, some of the listeners on the podcast might be thinking, da already knew all those things. But how does that help me with evangelism and apologetics? So this will help with evangelism and apologetics, because many times in your conversations with non Christians, the foundational issue which will guide the entire conversation is the view of truth that they bring to the table. So if somebody is a relativist, it doesn’t matter what reasons you give in defense of Christianity, because that’s just your view of the truth. And they can have their own view of the truth if they don’t like your version. And if somebody subscribes to hard scientism, they’ll just consider all the reasons you give for believing in God to be meaningless. So it seems obvious then, that the issue of the nature of truth is of the utmost importance for our presentation and defense of the gospel. In his book Christian apologetics. Doug grow trice writes this, Christians of all people must strongly firm the notion that truth is what corresponds to reality and must do so unswervingly whatever the postmodern or other winds of doctrine may be blowing in our faces. If we can change someone’s view of the truth, then we brought them one step closer to embracing the one that is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE. Well, that’s gonna do it for today’s episode of veracity Hill. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any feedback again, you can text us at 555888 including any questions you might have that we can respond to on future episodes. Thank you for joining us on the podcast and for helping us to strive for truth and faith, politics and society
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