You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. — John 8:32
Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor presiding over the trial of Jesus, asked the question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Philosophers throughout time have asked and debated the same question. Perhaps you have asked yourself this question too?
What is truth?
Philosophically, there are two different approaches to the idea of truth. The first approach proposes that truth-with-a-capital-T exists, the other approach denies there is such a thing as ultimate truth.
The first type of truth is objective truth. An objective truth is a fact that is true for everyone everywhere at all times. Plato, the Greek philosopher, suggested the idea of universal truth. For something to be true, it must correspond to reality. For it to be universally true, it must take in the whole universe and be true in all dimensions of time and space.
An example of universal truth would be mathematics. The logic of mathematics requires that 2+2=4. There is no time in history that 2+2 did not equal 4. If I have two apples and then I add two more apples, I will have four apples. When I add two apples to two apples, it is impossible for me to have three apples or five apples. If an objective truth is true, it must be true for everyone at all times. This logic works no matter what is being added—apples or oranges—and it doesn’t matter where in the universe or when in history the addition is being done. Even if people didn’t exist to do math, the answer to the question will always be 4. An objective truth refers to something that is true regardless of beliefs. A child who is learning addition might believe that 2+2=5. But no amount of belief makes that answer true.
An objective truth does not change regardless of different perspectives. For example, a car wreck may have many different perspectives, but there is only one truth about what happened. One witness to a car wreck may say a car ran a red light and another witness may say the light was green. While both witnesses have a perspective, there is really only one objective truth. Either the light was green or it was red.
Because of absolute objective truth, there can be no such thing as a round square, a male woman, or a good murder. Objectivity refers to point-of-view and what is true despite the different points of view that may be represented. Objective truth is stable and unchanging. Where truth is stable and unchanging, the opposite of truth is error.
The second type of truth is subjective truth which is a fact that is true for only one person or one group of people. Those who believe truth is subjective believe ultimate truth does not exist. Instead they propose that truth is relative rather than absolute. Subjectivity, like objectivity, refers to point of view.
A subjective truth is based on a person’s feelings, perspective, or opinion. For example, I think vanilla ice cream is superior to chocolate ice cream but my wife disagrees with me. My opinion about ice cream is a subjective truth because it depends upon what a subject (me) thinks and not on what the objective is (the ice cream). The fact that ice cream is a cold dessert made from milk and sugar is an objective truth, but the idea that one ice cream tastes better than another type of ice cream is a subjective truth.
Because subjective truth is based on opinion, a fact may be true in one culture but not in another culture. For example, in Western culture, it is a shared belief that it is rude to be more than five minutes late to a meeting. But, in many other cultures it is acceptable to arrive an hour late to a meeting, or even later. So the claim that it is rude to be five minutes late to a meeting is only subjectively true since it does not apply in all contexts or to all people.
According to J. Warner Wallace “objective” truth is rooted in the nature of the object under consideration and transcends the opinions of any subject considering this object, and “subjective” truth is rooted in the opinions and beliefs of the subjects who hold them and vary from person to person. To say “Jim’s car is a Hyundai” is an objective truth because a personal opinion will not change this fact. To say, “A Hyundai is the best kind of car” is a subjective truth because we may disagree on what make a car a good car. Wallace points out that “1+1=2” is an objective truth statement; “Math is fun” is a subjective claim.”
Relativism philosophically builds on the concept of subjectivity. Relativism is “the belief that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.” To the relativist, as society and culture changes, truth also changes. For example, in American culture, living together before marriage used to be frowned upon as a bad thing, but now so many people live together before they get married that most people no longer think it is wrong. Because of examples like this, relativists claim that truth is not stable, and that absolute truth does not exist. So when it comes to Christianity those who adopt a relativist approach to truth might say something like, “Christianity may be true for you, but it is not true for me.”
The problem with relativism
However, when relativists say that no belief is true for everyone, they are making a statement that they believe is true for everyone. Their position ironically refutes itself since they are making a universal claim that no universal claim is true. Post-modern relativism has a hard time establishing its truth claims because it frequently contradicts itself. For example, the claim, “everything is meaningless” is itself assumed to be a meaningful statement. Relativism abounds with these kinds of statements:
- • “There is no truth.” This statement is obviously claiming to be a true statement.
- • “There are no absolutes.” This statement makes an absolute claim.
- • “All truth is relative.” If this is the case, this statement is also relative.
- • “You can’t know anything for sure.” Including if this statement is true.
- • “Everything is meaningless.” If that is true, this statement is meaningless.
Statements like these demonstrate relativism’s weakness as a belief system. Relativists are like the people Paul mentions in Romans 1:22: “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” Truth exists, even if no one knows it, believes it, or accepts it. Truth does not depend upon majority opinion. At one time, most people in the world believed the sun revolved around the earth, but just because people believed this, it did not make it true. William Penn wrote, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it. And wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” Truth is not created, it is discovered.
Get your copy of Proof God is Real: https://amzn.to/3kIEOyA
Buy a Study Guide for Proof God is Real: https://amzn.to/3ozDlfq
Enroll in the Proof God is Real School of Apologetics: https://www.danielkingministries.com/proof
About the Author: Dr. Daniel King is a missionary evangelist who has traveled to over seventy nations in his quest for souls. His goal is to lead 1,000,000 people to Jesus every year through massive Gospel Festivals, distribution of literature, and leadership training. Because of his experience and research on evangelism, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in mass evangelism. As an evangelist, he has a deep interest in using apologetics to convince skeptics that God is real.