The Verdict of Reason
As we begin PART II, we are just beginning to scartch the surface of the issue. How to we even begin to talk about it. What is the common language between atheist, sceptic, Hindu, Muslim, New Age devotee and Christian? We must find one. But certain barriers exist. We are on a search for “Truth” – yet many of this post-modern generation will tell you that no “Truth” exists – or that all views are “True” – it is but a product of individual choice. So in this installment we’ll have to do some of the heavy lifting and do the whole philosophy-thing. Let’s start breaking it down.
WORLDVIEWS & “TRUTH”
We’ll start with this: We all have a worldview. It comes with the territory of living. But since a lot of folks might be unfamiliar with the term we need start with a definition. I would describe a worldview as a ‘Theory of Everything.’ It is our view of how ….. and why everything operates. The American Scientific Affiliation defines it thus. “A worldview is a theory of the world, used for living in the world. A world view is a mental model of reality — a framework of ideas & attitudes about the world, ourselves, and life, a comprehensive system of beliefs — with answers for a wide range of questions.”[i] It especially answers the big questions: Is there a God? What’s He like? Is there purpose in life? And what is the meaning of life. In some sense, our worldview will be wholly personal; in others it will fall into broad philosophical patterns defined by religious or philosophical orientation. It of course will be fed by our rational interpretation of events. But it will also be influenced by what we are taught, by our fears – and by our prejudices. There are millions that rarely if ever challenge there worldview – and others in which it has become so ingrained that no amount of “Truth” will move them to a more reasonable position. Still others believe that it is merely a matter of preference and choice. They argue that no one religion or philosophy can have the full “Truth.” So they all must have a piece of it. These conclude that all ways lead to the same place anyway. [This is but a comforting exercise in illogic, as we will argue later.]
Among philosophers who study such things, it is generally held that a worldview must answer five essential questions.
- Identity: Just who are we?
- Meaning: (The ‘Why are we here?’ question)
- Morality: How are we to live?
- Destiny: Where are we headed when this life is all done?
And the most important factor in determining our answers to those questions depends on whether God does or does not exist. It is the essential question.[ii] So let’s unpack the four basic worldviews. Each will answer these questions in a different way.
- THEISM: God exits and He is an etnernal and self-existent Being
- MATERIALISM: Matter and energy and the laws of nature are the ultimate reality. They define and determine everything. As Carl Sagan put it: “The cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be.”
- DEISM: God exists. But He doesn’t interfere in His creation. He just lets it run any-old-way it will. Good luck to ya!
- PANTHEISM: God is a Force. This Force is NOT rational, NOT conscious. And most importantly, the physical world – the cosmos – is all a part of this god. And so are we. The conclusion: We are therefore, in a sense, divine beings ourselves. (How convenient!)[iii]
By way of illustration let’s just look at how two of these worldviews answer the five big questions. The Materialist would make the case that our Origin was just one big cosmic accident. That means that our Identity could only be defined as the animal products of natural forces; a higher form of cosmic goo, if you will. With that as our Origin and Identity it logically follows that there is no higher Purpose for our existence. So we may institute the Morality we choose for a Purpose of our own determination – because we have no real Destiny. Our Destiny is …..well, nothingness. By way of comparison let’s look at the Theistic worldview – and narrow that down even further to the Biblical / Christian variety. Our Origin is from God. In fact, in Genesis, God said: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) So we have the imprint of Divine DNA somewhere in our fallen nature. As to our Identity, John 1:12 tells us we have the “right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” So our Purpose then is to serve the Living God, our Creator and Father. And it is His perfect nature that becomes the basis for our Morality. We are to “love the LORD your God” with our heart, soul, strength and mind. (Luke 1:27) And our Destiny becomes eternal life with Him. Quite the contrast!
But the question should be – not which worldview we prefer – but rather which more perfectly conforms to reality. And that is where we stumble up against the notion of absolute “Truth.” You see there is this notion going about that everyone can have their own ‘truth.’ That there is no overriding “Truth.” I remember first encountering it when I read Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Somewhere in there there a character talks about something being “true for him.” In other words, it promoted the notion that “Truth” could be specific to the individual. When I was in my teens, that sounded very deep of course. But upon further review, it is logically impossible. You see, the existence of ‘objective truth’ – is important – because “Truth” – reality, if you will has consequences. What if I’m wrong in my religious beliefs. What if Islam is the only way. Then I, as a Christian would have made a fatal miscalculation and sentenced myself to an eternity in Hell. So it becomes a very pragmatic thing to ascertain and believe only those things that are actually – and objectively – True. But how do we find this “Truth.” Can we believe the holy books? OK, then which one? The Bible gives us one set of truths, the Koran another contradictory explanation of reality. Then there’s the teachings of Buddha and Hinduism – and we’ve only scratched the surface of truth-claiming philosophies. But we are looking for a philosophy in the classical sense; one that is rational and supported by the evidence and seeks to find “Truth” through science, evidence and logic.[iv]
Now before we go on we’ve got to understand one thing: We can’t even have an argument about whose right about things if we think that “Truth” is relative. We’ve often seen or heard it said by ‘intellectual types’ that ‘All truth is relative,’ or ‘There are no absolutes.’ But these are actually self-defeating statements. All truth is relative? Well is that a relative truth or an absolute truth? There are no absolutes? Now, is that an absolute truth? Here are some of the real facts about Truth.
- Truth is Discovered. It does not depend on us knowing about it.
- Truth is True across cultures.
- Truth Does Not Change when our beliefs change.
- All TRUTH is Absolute! As Geisler and Turek put it in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist: “Contrary beliefs are possible, but contrary truths are not possible.”[v]
Logic tells us that all of this is so. Yet so much of the world tries to argue the fact. It is not a fallacy limited to our modern day and age. The Gospel of John records an exchange between Pontius Pilate and Jesus on the matter. Jesus had just told the Roman Procurator “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate replied: “What is truth?” (John 18:37, 38) It was a question dripping with scorn and skepticism, not a serious inquiry on Pilate’s part. And how very presciently it anticipated the post-modern mindset. What is truth? The existentialist question screams at us individually and corporately, across the noise and clutter of a culture, pregnant with much knowledge and so little wisdom. It is a question so supremely important, yet very seldom considered by the person too enamored of the world, or preoccupied by success, or self-gratification. Often, when it is considered, it is investigated in a superficial manner, imperfectly applying the principles of rationality and logic or being sidetracked by the irrelevancies of fairness, political correctness, or ‘tolerance’ as popularly defined. What is truth? We are often a society that little cares, consumed as we are by our toys and indulgences.
Still others are trapped by the alluring notion of ‘Tolerance’ as the supreme ethic. Some will say: ‘There is no absolute truth in religion.’ And by that standard might not all religious beliefs be valid? The climate of unquestioning tolerance would have us believe they could be. Who are we to judge one over another? Our culture speaks again. There is no absolute truth. It is the era of the subjective. Each individual is entitled to his own specific truth. ‘If you believe it, it is true for you.’ It is the reign of relativism. This tolerance has come to mean unqualified and unquestioning acceptance. To judge is evil. Even to judge evil is evil. Our culture allows little in the way of discernment. Everything is to be accepted at face value as what it claims to be. And those who take a biblical view of social issues are labeled as intolerant, homophobic and mean spirited. It cannot be otherwise if there is no objective truth on which to base judgment. All judgment is to be filtered through the self. After all, it all involves personal choices. And who are we to judge? After all ‘It’s all good’!
Logic tells us this can’t be so. Our experience confirms it. Evil is still going to be evil. Murder is always wrong. Good is still good. No matter how some of our intellectual elite may argue to the contrary, there is some transcendent morality, even if the bar has been lowered. Across cultures and time, man senses this within. It is historical fact that not all behaviors are morally equivalent. Prostitution, stealing, murder and adultery are in no wise equivalent to sex with love, honesty, non-violence and fidelity. Some behaviors are inherently better than others. Evil is evil, in that it celebrates the self at the expense of others.(3) Is this not a truth? And there is this: If there is a transcendent morality: Where does it come from? If there is “Truth:” What is its source? The atheist is hard pressed at this point to give a rational answer. In the world of the ‘accidental cosmos’, a world without purpose or meaning the notion of a transcendent morality is meaningless. And a notion of Evil and Good are merely the artificial constructs of human beings – legislating a societal code of morality according to their own interests or prejudices.
Take it then to religions: Can all religious belief really be of equal value? Some will argue that because of a some similar moral code they are at bottom, essentially the same. But the truth of the matter is exactly the opposite. The world’s major religions are at odds on so very many essential points and only superficially similar. They disagree on the nature of who God is, on the nature of man, the existence and meaning of sin, on creation, and heaven and hell. Hinduism teaches evil is an illussion. Islam says that Allah could not have a son. Christianity teaches that the death and rising of the Son of God, Jesus, is essential for the salvation of Mankind. And the list goes on. These truths that they teach are mutally exclusive. Are we to embrace the religious beliefs of cannibals or Satanic cults that call for child sacrifice? And what of Muslim terrorists? Are their beliefs equally valid? As Geisler and Turek again point out: “Contrary to popular opinion, major world religions do not ‘all teach the same things.’ They have essential differences and only superficial agreements. All religions cannot be true, because they teach opposites.”[vii]
So I hope we’ve set the table. We’ve talked about worldviews and the nature of “Truth” and briefly surveyed some competing systems of religious thought. That should give us a good jumping-off point to take on our next subject; the orgin of the Universe.
[ii] Norman L Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith t6o Be an Atheist, Crossway, 2004, pg 20
[iii] Dr Stephen Meyer, Does God Exist (DVD), True U, Truth Project, Focus on the Family,
[iv] Norman L Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith t6o Be an Atheist, Crossway, 2004, pgs 52-53
[v] Norman L Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith t6o Be an Atheist, Crossway, 2004, pgs 37-38
[vii] Norman L Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith t6o Be an Atheist, Crossway, 2004, pgs 46-48, 50