By Seth Bartley
Most people today divide themselves into one of two primary opposing schools of philosophy: Relativism or Absolutism. Relativism being, put simply, ‘all truth is relative’ (so whatever I want to be true, is) and Absolutism, to the contrary, ‘all truth is absolute’ (and the truth I support is the absolute one). I have decided to dedicate my article for the month of July going more in depth into this topic as I promised in my first article: Introductions. In this article, I will argue that while we are told all our lives to choose between Absolute and Relative, the real choice is between Objective and Subjective.
Relativism—all truth is relative.
Absolutism—all truth is absolute.
Subjectivism—truth is determined by man.
Objectivism—truth is determined independent from man.
How do you define Relativism?
The classic metaphor to explain relativism has been the story of three blind men feeling three parts of an elephant. One man (feeling the trunk) thinks it’s a snake, the second (feeling a leg) thinks it’s a tree, the third (feeling the tail) thinks it’s a rope. According to Relativism, all three are correct, from each mans own perspective. Truth is subject to each man’s perspective.
This is true, but not correct. Each of these men does indeed have equal authority, but they’re all equally wrong. It’s not a snake, it’s not a tree, it’s not a rope; it’s an elephant.
Arguments with relativism generally boil down into two logistic concerns:
- How big is your tent? (One must be vague enough that a large number of people can accept the Truth defined.)
- How precise are you? (One must be specific enough that the Truth defined stays unique and will not be gobbled up by other truths.)
The Diagram below may illustrate more clearly. In this case, each arrow represents a person arguing toward a specific truth from their perspective. The result is that Truth is generally defined by consensus, democratic vote, or just your own decision. This is a system where truth is subject to Man’s Will.
For those who are seeking a greater stability, the question becomes: “who has the highest point of view, who is the most trustworthy source, the quality perspective?” We who serve Nature’s god, the Creator who spoke the Universe into existence, the Author of Life; this is easy to answer.
This point may be illustrated best in the Gospel of Mark 8.33 “But, turning around and looking at his [disciples, Jesus] rebuked [Peter.] ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said, ‘For your thinking is from a human perspective, not from God’s perspective!” (CJB, emphasis added). Throughout Scripture again and again we find that people are judged right or wrong based on someone’s personal opinion: YHWH’s.
(Other examples of Truth being subject not to mans perspective, but God’s perspective include: Genesis 38.7-10; Judges 2.11, 3.7-12, 4.1,…; 1 Kings 14.22, 15.11,…; 2 Kings 3.2, 3.18,…; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.)
How do you define Absolutism?
Absolutism is a little easier for people to recognize and define. Most people who identify themselves as “religious” would proudly ascribe to the label of “Absolutist.” This philosophy, we are told, upholds truth as unchanging and knowable. The question is which truth?
Here is another Diagram. In this situation, truth is represented by a solid stable dot, but who is to say which dot is the right dot? This means that those who assert a particular truth tend to ‘circle the wagons’—sort of speak—around that truth and fight to prove that they are logical and the other asserted truths are illogical; “ours” is the irrefutable truth.
In the end Truth is generally defined by consensus, democratic vote, or just your own decision. It’s not that different from Relativism; it does have the benefit of a more stable point of contention, but this is still a system where truth is subject to Man’s Will.
I argue that Truth is not subject to Man’s Will.
What is Subjectivism?
Regardless of whether we say “Truth is Relative” or “Truth is Absolute,” when the rubber hits the road we are claiming that “Truth is Subject to the understanding of Man.” Personally, I see both Relativism and Absolutism as a “sucker’s choice.” We are asked which camp we are in, when in fact they are both perversions. I see them as the two extremes of Subjectivism: ‘truth is determined by man’.
What is Objectivism?
I take an alternate path; not a middle-ground between Relativism and Absolutism, for that would simply be a compromise in a perverse direction. I hold to the view of Objectivism: ‘truth is determined independent from man’. (For more information look up: Gottlob Frege, Immanuel Kant.)
I believe that there are many ‘truths’ but the Creator of the universe determines which truth is truly true. We can be in line with him, slightly off, directly opposing, but HE is the benchmark. Put simply, God is truth and truth is God. The hard part comes in figuring out who this “Creator” is and what He/She/It believes. I hold that this Creator has identified himself as YHWH and is described in the Hebrew Scriptures. (For deeper reflection look up John Locke regarding Natural Law and Revealed Law.)
This might sound a little complicated at first; allow me to illustrate with a series of diagrams.
We start with the Creator of the Universe, the Author of Life, the god which Nature worships.
This is the absolute, but the ONLY absolute. Now we move into a discussion of who, what, where, when, why, and how regarding this god and His/Her/It’s wishes regarding the Creation. These discussions will depend on each of our personal perspectives of this god.
Because it is safe to bet that anyone reading this article is a servant of the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I’ll simply assert that the god I refer to in this diagram as ‘the Creator of the universe,’ is in fact the one god YHWH. It’s a shortcut.
Now we see each of the perspectives and how they interact. Unlike the versions of Subjectivism, here there is only one absolute truth seen from relative perspectives.
When we search for Truth we look towards the Creator. While we try to behave and look at the world through God’s eyes, none of us are the LORD. We cannot truly see the world from His omniscient perspective. It would be arrogant, at best, to claim that our personal perspective was truly holistic.
Begrudgingly, I must admit that even if I were to quote the LORD directly from Scripture, in most cases, integrity would limit me to saying only that such-and-such is what the LORD believes (as best I understand it).
Looking away and following a perversion of Truth. Every good lie has, at its heart, a kernel of truth; that’s what makes it believable. In order to have this kernel, it must be in some way based on Truth and because there is only one source of Truth, we must look to the same source. The lie is simply a corruption or perversion of that truth.
There are a couple other small possibilities.
- Arguments moving on a tangent based on Truth might be colloquially described as ‘Close, but no cigar.’
- An argument not based on Truth would be, by definition, nonsensical or illogical.
That’s the basics, but as we know, it never gets to be that simple. Looking to the Author of Life directly for truth is rarely enough in life outside the pulpit. More often than not we have to follow a trail of breadcrumbs.
On their quest for Truth a person may find other truths. As stated earlier, we never have the whole picture, but if we are seeking the truth from the perspective of the Creator of the universe then we can walk without fear, for the Lord has promised “keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11.9b CJB)
We can rest assured that no matter how long the journey; if it is the Truth, then we will find ourselves in the presence of the Author of Life. A prime present-day example of this would be a man named Anthony Flew. Mr. Flew was an atheist apologist; he took pride in debating with Christians the science which absolutely proved that there was no Creator. After long study of nature seeking the Truth he begrudgingly came to the conclusion that there HAS to be a deity. Last I knew, he had not said he believed that deity is the Christian God, but he is seeking Truth and was forced to admit that there is a creator. To say otherwise is literally nonsense (Psalms 14.1).
What is this central truth? I’ve given you my belief, my opinion, based on my perspective and point of view, but to truly answer that question you will have to search for the truth yourself and see it through your own eyes, not mine.
The truth is out there, seek it.
May the LORD bless you and have a good day.