05 / 06

Are There Objective Truths about God?

William Lane Craig speaks at the European Leadership Conference in Sopron, Hungary

Time : 00:55:24

William Lane Craig speaks before the annual conference of the European Leadership Forum in Sopron, Hungary, in which Dr. Craig considers three modern and post-modern challenges to the objectivity of truths about God: Verificationism, Mystical Anti-Realism, and Radical Pheralism. Concludes with provocative reflections on why so many in contemporary culture are attracted to views which are patently self-refuting.


MODERATOR: Bill, would you come and join me so I can introduce you and pray for you. Woody Allen’s famous line comes to mind, “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.” And whenever I hear Bill speak, I am always thinking, “Wow, I wish I could do that.” But we are just thrilled, Bill, that you have joined us. One of the things that struck me, Bill, about you – I mean you do have an advantage, having a brain the size of a planet – but you put that really to the humble service of the Gospel. And what I am intrigued to know – you are President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, a professor at Talbot seminary, and yet you are utterly committed to the basics of the Gospel. You get excited when we are singing hymns. Watching you, you are in love with the Lord, how do you keep the two together when you are working at the high end?

DR. CRAIG: Well, that hymn that we just sang is my favorite hymn. It describes so poignantly what happened to my life as a 16 year old student, lost in despair, darkness, meaninglessness, and then I heard the Gospel through the witness of a girl who sat in front of me in my German class. And when I received Christ it was as though the dungeon flamed with light, the chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed him, and it turned my life upside down. So I am ready to go anywhere, anyplace that I can to share the good news of this Gospel that so changed my life. And it is not as if it’s a sacrifice Richard, as you know – this is fun, you know, I am having a blast.

MODERATOR: Well, you can see the danger of apologetics, it really cuts you off emotionally, doesn’t it? It deadens your emotions and you just became a brain. Bill, let’s pray for you.

Heavenly Father, I do thank you for your servant, Bill. Thank you for that wonderful time in his life where his chains fell off, and his heart was free, when he was able, by the power of your Spirit, to rise, go forth, and follow you. Thank you that he has followed you through thick and thin and has served you so faithfully. We are tremendously grateful for him and for his family and for the members of his church and his colleagues for being so generous in lending him to us. Please greatly bless him tonight as he ministers to us, help him to express things in just the way that is going to be right for us. And by your Holy Spirit inform our minds, make us excited by the truths that we hear. And also, Lord, quicken our hearts and bend our wills so that we would serve you better. We disciple our minds and energize our lives to go out and be salt and light for you. So to that end we pray that you would be with us and be with Bill and, in Jesus name, amen.

DR. CRAIG: Well I want to say, what a delight it is for me to have been invited to participate in this conference. I was at the conference in Budapest two years ago and when I got the invitation to return again this year I leaped at the chance because it is just so exciting to be with you and to think of the opportunity of having input into the lives of Christian apologists and leaders from thirty different countries of Europe. I have been having a blast. I hope you have had just half as much fun as I have had at this conference; it has been just a thrill for me to be here and I am delighted to have the chance to share with the plenary group this evening.

Now what I would like to do this evening is to share some thoughts with you about the question, “Are there objective truths about God?” And as you listen to this talk, I’d like you to be thinking of some question that you might like to ask, because when I am finished we are going to throw open the floor for your questions and any points of clarification or disagreement that you might want to express. We will have some time to just discuss the contents of what I am going to be sharing tonight. There is a detailed outline in your notebook that I would encourage to you to take out because we are going to be dealing with some rather deep subjects tonight and I think this outline will be of great help to you, even if you are an English speaker, in following along with some of the concepts we are going to be discussing. [1]

Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” [2]

Down through the ages, men have asked Pilate’s question. What is the nature of truth? How can I know truth? Is there one truth? As a Christian philosopher, these are some of the issues that I would like to grapple with you this evening.

The biblical conception of truth is quite multifaceted. The Bible typically uses words like “true” or “truth” in non-philosophical senses. It uses words like this to indicate such qualities as fidelity (as when we say someone is a true friend), or moral rectitude or righteousness, or reality (that which is real is true), and so on and so forth. Occasionally, however, the Scriptures do speak of truth in the more philosophical sense of veracity, and, of course, the biblical writers everywhere presuppose that what they are writing is true in precisely that sense; that is to say, they assume that they are not writing falsehoods. So Christian theology certainly has a stake in the philosophical conception of truth.

That being so, however, it remains the case that there is no peculiarly Christian theory of truth. This is just as it should be, for if Christianity presented a peculiar or distinctive definition or standard of truth, then its claim to be true would be circular or system-dependent. It would claim to be true meaning it meets its own standard of what truth is, which would be utterly trivial. But the Christian faith means to commend itself in the marketplace of ideas. The Christian faith claims to be true in the common, ordinary sense of that term and it leaves the enunciation of a more careful definition to the philosophers. Thus when philosophers formulate various theories of truth, such as the Correspondence Theory of Truth, the Coherence Theory of Truth, or the Existence Theory of Truth, none of these can be christened as the Christian theory of truth, and there have been Christian philosophers among the adherents of each one.

For my part, I find some version of the Correspondence Theory to be the most satisfactory. This theory goes all the way back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle and beyond. In your handout, you’ll see Aristotle’s very influential definition of what it is for something to be false and to be true. This is what Aristotle said, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false; while to say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true.” [3] So according to Aristotle, to say of what is that it is not, or of what it is not, that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, or of what is not, that it is not, it true. Now Aristotle is here not so much giving a definition of truth as he is explaining the conditions under which something can be truly asserted. And it seems to me that this very influential characterization is quite correct. Among contemporary correspondence theorists of truth, truth is usually conceived as a property of either a sentence or a proposition which corresponds to the world as it actually is and so describes accurately reality. So, for example, the proposition, “Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white. [4] While I would not pretend that the Bible teaches the Correspondence Theory of Truth, such a theory seems to me wholly compatible with biblical ideas about truth and moreover very plausible, if not obvious, in its own right.

But then you may say what contribution does Christian theology have to make to a discussion about truth? Well, it tells us specifically that there are truths about God, and that is not trivial. For many certain contemporary schools of modern and postmodern thought deny that there are any objective theological truths. Atheists and theists may disagree as to which propositions about God are true or false – the theist believes that the proposition “God exists” has the value “true” whereas the atheist thinkgs that same proposition has the value “false” – but at least the theist and atheist both agree that there are propositions about God and that these have some truth value, that they are either true or false rather than truth valueless. But certain schools of modern and postmodern thought, however, do not concur.

Consider, for example, the challenge of Verificationism. In order to understand this challenge, you need to understand the difference between a sentence and a proposition. A sentence is a linguistic entity composed of words. So, for example, the sentence “Snow is white” is a different sentence from “Der Schnee ist weiss.” The one sentence has three words, the other sentence has four words and they have no words in common. One is in English and the other in German. They are clearly different sentences. A proposition, by contrast, is the information content of a declarative sentence. So that in this case, “snow is white” and “Der Schnee ist weiss” both have the same information content, namely, that snow is white. And therefore both of these sentences, though different sentences, express the same proposition. They both have the same information content and therefore express in different languages the same proposition.

Now during the heyday of Logical Positivism during the 1930s and 1940s, it was widely thought among philosophers that there literally are no propositions about God. That sentences having the word “God” in them were literally meaningless. So that to say, for example, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” is as meaningless as saying “’Twas brillig; and the slithey toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” Just complete nonsense. This display of philosophical arrogance toward religious and ordinary language was the result of the Positivists’ much vaunted Verification Principle of Meaning. According to that Principle, which went through a number of revisions, a sentence in order to be meaningful must be capable in principle of being empirically verified. So a sentence had to be verifiable by your five senses in order to be a meaningful sentence. Now, since, in the opinion of thePositivists, theological statements could not be empirically verified (they were not verifiable by the five senses), they were regarded as meaningless. Under the pressure of Verificationism, some theologians began to advocate emotivist theories of religious language. On their view theological statements are not statements of fact at all but they merely express the user’s emotions and attitudes. For example, the sentence “God created the world” does not purport to make any factual statement at all about how the world came to be. Rather, it is merely a way of expressing, say, your awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe. It makes so factual claim whatsoever, it is merely an expression of your emotions. [5] Now it hardly needs to be said that such an interpretation of religious and theological language hardly represents the viewpoint of the biblical writers or of the ordinary religious believer. They typically mean by their religious statements precisely what those statements appear to assert, for example, that God created the world. That is a factual assertion that is either true or false.

Fortunately, it was soon discovered that the Verification Principle would not only force us to regard theological statements as meaningless, but it would also force us to regard many scientific statements as meaningless along with ethical, aesthetic, and metaphysical statements as well. So the principle was wholly unreasonable. It would consign to the trash bin of meaninglessness vast tracts of ordinary human language and discourse. But even more fundamentally, it was soon realized that the principle is self-refuting. Simply ask yourself the question, is the verification principle itself capable of being empirically verified? Is the sentence, “A meaningful sentence must be capable in principle of being empirically verified” itself capable of being empirically verified? Obviously not! No amount of empirical or scientific evidence would serve to verify its truth. The Verification Principle is therefore, by its own standards, a meaningless combination of words, which hardly needs to detain us, or at the very best it is just an arbitrary definition that the Positivist has cooked up which we are at liberty to reject. Therefore, Logical Positivism and its Verification Principle of Meaning have been almost universally abandoned by contemporary philosophers. But it is sad however to see how this positivistic attitude still persists in many non-philosophical fields at the university, particularly I find among people in the hard sciences who were trained in the positivist era. And I imagine that those of you from eastern Europe who were educated in the Soviet dominated system of Marxist-Leninist ideology will also recognize this obsolete philosophy of Logical Positivism in the kind of theory of knowledge that they attempted to inculcate into their students.

A second denial of theological truth comes from the quarter of Eastern mysticism and its peculiarly Western stepchild, the so-called New Age movement. I am going to call this perspective Mystical Anti-Realism. According to this perspective there are propositions about God all right, but they are neither true nor false; they are all of them truth valueless. Thus, propositions expressed by sentences like “God exists,” “God is good,” or “The world was created by God” are neither true nor false, they just have no truth value. Sometimes it is said that God transcends all of the categories of human thought and language, so that it is quite impossible to assert any truths about God, as Christian theology pretends to do.

Unfortunately, it’s not even clear what is meant by the Mystical Anti-Realist claim that God is above human thought and language. I mean, that is a metaphor, after all, that God is above human thought and language. What does that mean literally? The best sense that I can make out of this claim is that what logicians call the Principle of Bivalence fails to be valid for propositions about God. What is the Principle of Bivalence? The Principle of Bivalence states that for any proposition p, p is either true or false. Or in other words, every proposition has a truth value, and it is either true or it is false. [6] This principle is very closely related to one of the classical laws of thought, namely, the Law of Excluded Middle which states that for any proposition p and its negation not-p, then either p is true or not-p is true. The claim under consideration seems to be that propositions referring to God are neither true nor false. The Principle of Bivalence fails to govern propositions which refer to God.

Now on the face of it such a position seems to be simply incomprehensible. For example, it seems absurd to say that a logical contradiction is not false. If anything is false it would be a logical contradiction. But on this view a proposition like “God both exists and does not exist” is not false because that is a proposition which refers to God and therefore has no truth value. But how could it fail to be false? It seems to be necessarily false – it is a logical contradiction, how could it fail to be false when you assert that God both exists and does not exist? Or take the proposition, “God either exists or does not exist.” That proposition would also fail to be true on the Mystical Anti-Realist view. But how could it fail to be true? It states logically mutually exclusive alternatives: either God exists or he does not exist. What other alternative is there? It seems to be necessarily true. And thus the position is just logically incoherent and incomprehensible.

But that is not all. The position involves an even deeper incoherence. For consider the proposition expressed by the following sentence: “God can be described by bivalent propositions.” Since that is a proposition about God, the Principle of Bivalence should not be valid for it. Therefore, it cannot be false. But if it is not false, then how can it be the case, as the Mystical Anti-Realist claims, that the Principle of Bivalence fails for propositions about God? If the Principle of Bivalence fails, then isn’t it false that God can be described by bivalent propositions? It seems that one cannot coherently affirm that propositions about God are neither true of false. Now the anti-realist might retort at this point that the above only shows that rational paradox is inevitable when we try to talk about God. But that is not the case; so long as we respect the Principle of Bivalence we can discourse perfectly, coherently, and rationally about God. What is incoherent here is the anti-realist’s denial of the validity of the Principle of Bivalence with respect to propositions about God. The problem is not God, the problem is the Mystical Anti-Realist position itself. The one who denies that the Principle of Bivalence is valid for propositions about God is in the act of that very denial affirming a bivalent proposition about God. So it is not God which is the source of the incoherence, rather it is simply the Mystical Anti-Realist view itself.

In any case, I think it is clear that no reasons could ever be offered for adopting the view that the Principle of Bivalence is not valid for propositions about God. For any purported reason that might be given for adopting this view would involve affirming certain truths about God. But the position prohibits there being any truths about God. For example, suppose someone says that the principle fails because “God is too great to be grasped by categories of human thought,” or, they assert, “God is wholly other,” or “God is omnipotent and so transcends our logic.” Then all of these are themselves bivalent propositions about God and thus none of these statements can be true and so none of them can furnish grounds for adopting the position in question. [7] The position therefore can only be adopted by an arational leap of faith. But surely, as rational men and women, we ought to be extremely reluctant to commit intellectual suicide for no reason whatsoever when it comes to theology. In the absence of any reason to abandon rational thought in this realm, I think that we should continue to employ the same cannons of rational thought which have proved to be so fruitful in every other discipline.

A final contemporary attack on theological truth as the Christian understands is the most wild of them all, what I am going to call Radical Pluralism. With roots in Eastern Mysticism and radically individualized through the Critical Philosophy of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, this view holds that each individual constitutes reality for himself so that there is no trans-subjective truth about the way the world is. On this view, the popular expression “That may be true for you, but it is not true for me” is literally correct. The world has no objective truth about it, there is only the world for you and the world for me. Now, at face value, such a view may seem patently absurd: whether we believe that the stove burner is on or not, if we put our hand on it and it is on, then we are going to be burned whether we believe in it or not. Similarly, there were surely events going on before I was born which were entirely independent of me: the Big Bang, the era of galaxy formation, the age of the dinosaurs, and so forth. But these sorts of absurdities result because we are still thinking of an objective world out there and trying to marry subjectivism to it. Radical Pluralism is much more radical than that. According to Radical Pluralism, there is no objective reality; there is no overarching way the world is. The world has fallen apart and has been replaced by the world-for-me.

This Radical Pluralism is antithetical to the Christian world and life view because Christianity ascribes to God a privileged position as the knower of all truth. He stands, as it were, at the pinnacle of a pyramid of diverse perspectives on the world and in the unity of his intellect grasps the world as it is. There is thus on the Christian perspective a unity to truth and reality which is known to God. Radical pluralists therefore often see their task as overtly anti-theological in nature. For example, the literary critic Roland Barthes has written the following,

To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final significance, to close the writing . . . . In precisely this way literature, by refusing to assign . . . an ultimate meaning to the text (and to the world as text) liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases – reason, science, law. [8]

I find it especially intriguing that reason, science, and law are to be regarded by Radical Pluralists as to be rejected along with God. Truly this perspective threatens the entire university and indeed the entire fabric of society.

Radical Pluralism is attended by relativism. [9] For example, the American philosopher Richard Rorty says that truth is whatever my colleagues will let me get away with. Since you and I have different colleagues, truth is pluralistic because your colleagues may not let you get away with the same things that my colleagues let me get away with. Reacting to Rorty’s view, the philosopher Alvin Plantinga has written the following,

Although this view is very much au courant and with-it in the contemporary intellectual world, it has consequences that are peculiar, not to say preposterous. For example, most of us think that the Chinese authorities did something monstrous in murdering those hundreds of young people in Tiananmen Square, and then compounded their wickedness by denying that they had done it. On Rorty’s view, however, this is an uncharitable misunderstanding. What the authorities were really doing, in denying that they had murdered those students, was something wholly praiseworthy: they were trying to bring it about that the alleged massacre never happened. For they were trying to see to it that their colleagues would let them get away with saying that the massacre never happened; that is, they were trying to make it true that it never happened; and who can fault them for that? The same goes for those contemporary neo-Nazis who claim that there was no holocaust; from a Rortian view, they are only trying to see to it that such a terrible thing never happened; and what could be more commendable than that? This way of thinking has real possibilities for dealing with poverty and disease: if only we let each other get away with saying that there isn’t any poverty and disease – no cancer or AIDS, let’s say – then it would be true that there isn’t any; and if it were true that there isn’t any, then of course there wouldn’t be any. [10]

The serious point of Plantinga’s satirical critique is that it exposes the truly sinister nature of Radical Pluralism. For if there is no objective truth, if reality is whatever you make it to be, then in the absence of the objectivity of truth, there is no check upon the unbridled will to power. Whoever has power is able to determine what the truth is.

If this weren’t bad enough, it seems to me that Radical Pluralism is also self-refuting. We need only ask ourselves, “Is Radical Pluralism objectively true?” It claims that “There is no objective truth about the world” but that statement itself purports to be an objective truth about the world. It says that “Each individual constitutes reality,” so that there is no objective reality; but that is itself a statement about objective reality. It states that the proposition “Truth is pluralistic” is objectively true, which is incoherent.

The Radical Pluralist cannot escape this incoherence by saying that it is only from his perspective that there is no objective truth about the world. For if that is true only from his perspective, then that fact does not preclude that there is objective truth about the world, in which case his perspective is just objectively false. If he replies that it is only from someone else’s perspective that there is objective truth about the world, then it follows that all truth is perspectival, or that Radical Pluralism is objectively true, which is incoherent. And so Radical Pluralism is mired in self-referential inconsistency.

Well, why is it then, you may ask, that in our day and age so many people seem attracted to pluralistic and relativistic views of truth despite the fact they are both preposterous and self-refuting? I believe that the attraction is due to a misunderstanding of the concept of tolerance. In our Western democratic societies, we have a deep commitment to the value of tolerance of different points of view. [11] Many people have the impression that tolerance requires Radical Pluralism with respect to truth. They seem to think that the claim that objective truth exists is incompatible with tolerance of other views because those other views must then be regarded as false. So in order to maintain tolerance of all views, one must not regard any of them as false. They must all be true. But since they are mutually contradictory, they cannot all be objectively true. Hence, truth must be relative and pluralistic.

But it seems to me pretty obvious that such a view is simply based on an incorrect understanding of tolerance. When you think about it, the very concept of tolerance entails that you disagree with that which you tolerate. Otherwise, you wouldn’t tolerate it; you would agree with it! Thus, one can only tolerate a view if one regards that view as untrue. You can’t tolerate a view which you yourself believe to be true. Thus, the very concept of toleration presupposes that one believes the tolerated view to be false. So, far from being incompatible with objective truth, the very concept of tolerance entails the objectivity of truth.

The correct basis of tolerance is not pluralism, but rather the inherent worth of every human being created in the image of God and therefore endowed with certain God-given rights, including freedom of thought and expression. That’s why Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” [12] The basis of tolerance is not relativism, but love.

In summary then, it seems to me that while Christian theology does not propound a particular theory of truth, it is wholly compatible with the traditional view of truth as correspondence. The Christian worldview purports to describe the reality as it is and therefore to be true. The challenges posed to theological truth by Verificationism, Mystical Anti-Realism, and Radical Pluralism are all ultimately self-defeating and self-referentially incoherent. Of course, I have not tried to show tonight that the propositions constituting the Christian worldview are in fact true. That is a talk for another time.



MODERATOR: Now you have a chance, just a few minutes, to ask questions. It is obviously much harder in a big group like this, but I would like you to consider the Chinese proverb that he who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, but he who doesn’t is a fool forever. So don’t kick yourselves after this thing, “Oh, if only I had asked him what he meant by that, I am going to be in the dark about that forever.” So who has questions, let’s just see how many people know they have a question at this stage, let’s see, we have hands, OK, there are microphones on both sides. Line up, and we’ll see how we get along with four questions and see then if we have time for more.

QUESTION: I actually have two questions, but I don’t know if that is fair, so I will start with the more fundamental one. If Jesus makes the claim, “not that I know the truth, but I am the truth,” is he making a non-philosophical statement? That is, “I have the moral rectitude,” and so on and so forth. It seems to me, I don’t know exactly how you put it, but you said that the Christian view of truth is unitary because God grasps the truth, making it seem like there is a general truth that is out there which God is not a part of, he just knows it as a general property, there is a general condition of there are propositions which are true. [13]  Whereas is could be argued, in a nontrivial sense, that God himself is the truth, and any proposition is true given that it corresponds to God’s revelation.

DR. CRAIG: All right, this is a good question. Remember that I began by saying that the Bible typically uses the word true in non-philosophical senses and has a broad range of meanings. For example, we use this in our own English language today when we say, for example, that someone is a true friend, or that this measure is true, or that this goal is true, those are all different senses of the word “true” that I wasn’t discussing this evening. So when Jesus says, “I am the truth,” that means something, I think, like the ultimate reality, or the authentic meaning of life, or something of that sort. He doesn’t mean, I am a proposition, having a certain truth value. So when I said later that God stands at a pinnacle of diverse perspectives on the world, and grasps the truth in the unity of his intellect, I was speaking of propositional truth. According to the Christian view, God is omniscient, and that means that God knows every truth and believes no falsehood, and in that sense God has a unified view of the world. But to speak of God as the truth in these other senses is quite appropriate as well but just wasn’t the discussion this evening because we were discussing this concept of truth in the sense of veracity, and that was the unity that I was speaking of with respect to God.

QUESTION: There is a more slippery version of radical pluralism, which I am sure you know. There are the folk who say, we are in fact making truth statements but we are doing them with an incommensurable vocabulary to you absolutists, namely, we don’t even speak the same language as you, maybe we don’t even share the same concept of human as you. And therefore the sorts of statements that we want to make about the world are irrefutable in your vocabulary. How do you respond?

DR. CRAIG: If somebody asserts incommensurability I think I would ask, “Well, what about that statement you just made? Is that an incommensurable statement?” If it is, then it has no meaning, and therefore is not true. But if it really is true that they are making incommensurable statements, then that again is self-refuting. And this is the pattern over and over again with these types of views. When you apply the view to itself it turns out to be self-referentially incoherent – it pulls the rug out from under itself. So I don’t think that those pluralists who say that they are speaking in an incommensurable vocabulary have uttered a coherent sentence and so therefore have said nothing at all. It is as though they have just babbled their tongue or something of that sort.

QUESTION: Is there an explanation for this false idea of intolerance, because if a non-Christian tells me that I am intolerant and then I tell him that he is wrong about this, then he will tell me again that I am intolerant, like where does this come from, that we are considered intolerant even when we are not?

DR. CRAIG: It is very difficult to know where this false idea came from. When I was a child I was taught that tolerance meant, even though I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it. That is the classical concept of tolerance that has typically been affirmed in democratic societies and that I was taught as a child. But today the concept of tolerance is, I dare not disagree with what you say, lest I be branded bigoted and intolerant for having dared to say it. And I think this is all bound up with this relativity of truth. It is just a misunderstanding of the nature of tolerance and it has been deeply inculcated into Western society and education and I think that we need to expose its incoherence and get back to the classical concept of tolerance that has been enunciated and has been the bedrock of Western society.

QUESTION: First of all, thank you very much for a lovely and clear talk tonight. You said that radical pluralism holds that each individual constitutes reality himself. Would you mind talking to us a little bit more about the most sophisticated form of radical pluralism which talks about truth communities which have, if you like, an objective truth within their community but they would say that there is no objective truth which applies to everybody in terms of belief. [14]

DR. CRAIG: I think that is very much the same question that Marcos asked. He said that, remember, when these communities speak to us they claim they are speaking in a different vocabulary that cannot even be translated into the vocabulary of the person who believes in objective truth. But my claim was that when somebody in that community makes such a statement he is presupposing that the claim to be speaking in a different vocabulary is a claim that I can understand and can assess and ought to somehow agree with or regard as significant when in fact it cannot if his view is true. So the view, as I say, pulls the rug out from under itself, or, to use a different image, it saws off the limb on which the person is sitting: if it is true then it is false, and therefore cannot be affirmed.

QUESTION: Concerning bivalence and Eastern mysticism. For someone who is very deeply influenced by Eastern mysticism, one of the things that they will claim is that bivalence is a trait built into a very peculiarly Western understanding of logic, and that since the truth really is unity, and bivalence crops up whenever we try to speak of the truth, but the truth really is this kind of non-discursive, not amenable to description, unity, that, what you are saying, if I am an Easterner, say, and you come at me and say, well, whatever you say is going to be incoherent, then I will, say, well yes, because you cannot even speak of the truth using your Western categories. And all you are going to be doing is, he is going to feel attacked but not necessarily persuaded.

DR. CRAIG: Well now that last consideration is a more practical consideration than a philosophical point about the coherence of his view. You are quite right that the Eastern mystic will say this; sometime the Buddhist will simply say nothing because all one can do is be silent. But you see insofar as that is being done then that person makes no claim whatsoever, and so therefore there is simply nothing to refute, there is no claim there, and therefore there is just nothing to refute, it is just nothing. And the minute he tries to make an assertion, the minute he tries to make a claim, like truth is non-discursive, all is one, or, the world of distinction is illusory, the minute he does that he is involved in self-incoherence because he is affirming the Principle of Bivalence with respect to those. And it is important to see that this is not a division between East and West. Eastern thinkers themselves have criticized the views of people like Shankara who hold to this kind of monistic view, and have rejected it. So you can find, if you read a good book on Oriental philosophy, you will find Eastern thinkers themselves criticizing severely these kinds of monistic claims about reality. So this is not a division which plays off East against West in any way. Eastern thinkers themselves exercise the kind of critique that I have today. Take a look at Stuart Hackett’s book Oriental Philosophy: A Westerner’s Guide, I think is the subtitle. [15] And as I recall I think Ramanuja was one of the critics of Shankara that exercised this sort of critique though that is just said by memory and you would have to verify it, but take a look at a book like Stuart Hackett’s Oriental Philosophy.

QUESTION: Could you comment on any possible shift of an understanding of truth as the biblical revelation went from the Hebrew culture into the Greek culture which was much more gnosis based and rational based rather than holistic, heart, and wisdom based? [16]

DR. CRAIG: I think that this is another false dichotomy, just as false as the dichotomy between East and West, people who try to play off the Greek view against the Hebraic view. The Hebrews understood and exercised and obeyed the Law of Contradiction, just as much as the Greeks did. In fact, I was talking once to a missionary to India, who was himself Indian, and we began talking about Indian view of reality and he said that the typical Eastern response by a Hindu would be to say, “all is one, all is one.” And he said it makes it extraordinarily difficult to preach the Gospel to someone who has this kind of monistic view of reality, that all is one. And he said, I think that one of the reasons that God schooled the Israelites in so many of these ceremonial distinctions between clean and unclean foods, this and not that, this and not that, is because he said he wanted to inculcate into Israel clear distinctions according to the Law of Contradiction, p and not-p, clean and unclean. And when you think about it that is really true, the whole Hebrew religion is based upon these sorts of clear lines of demarcation that makes it impossible for the Jew to say, all is one, all is one, because there are these sharp divisions between clean and unclean, good an evil, and so forth. So I think that this is very Hebraic and, as this missionary said, serves to distinguish Hebrew thinking in that respect from certain forms of Hindu thought, for example.

QUESTION: You know I come out of a Zen tradition, where preposterousness and self-refutation are cheerful friends. And it really is so. And when they say, all is one, they don’t mean it, they are it. And they are not sincere, they are compassionate, and it really is very difficult to reach them. And there as Westerners like Huston Smith who buy into this. Is it appropriate to make a little comment and critique on these God transcending absolutes or is that another issue entirely.

DR. CRAIG: Well I think that the same sort of critique would apply that I have given with respect to Mystical Anti-Realism because the Mystical Anti-Realist will say, propositions that refer to God have no truth value, so that makes it impossible to say things like, God is good, or God is personal, or on the other hand, God is darkness or God is evil. You cannot say God loves the world, God created the world. You cannot even say God is one. I mean the paradox is that you cannot even say, God is inexpressible or ineffable, because that then is something expressible about God. So the Mystical Anti-Realist view is precisely what you have said, is that God transcends all of these sorts of categories but as I say that is self-referentially incoherent because the minute one asserts that one has asserted a truth about God. And so that is why the Zen Buddhist is just sort of left with silence, with nothing to say. Now, granted, this may not be the most effective evangelistic method, and I am not suggesting that, I am not speaking on, how to reach Zen Buddhists tonight. I am giving a philosophical defense of the Christian claim to know truths about God in response to the attacks of these other views. Now, if they do not want to attack us, if they do not want to deny that there are truths about God well then there is simply nothing to respond to, you see what I mean? So I am responding to these criticisms in defense of the Christian belief that there are objective truths about God by showing that these critiques ultimately reduce to incoherence and self-refutation, and therefore do not refute the Christian view that there are objective truths about God. But in terms of how one shares the Gospel with the Buddhist or how one reaches him most effectively with the Gospel, those are questions which should be addressed by a professional missionary who has lived in that culture and so forth, not by me as a Christian philosopher. I am simply defending the coherence and the truth of the Christian claim that there are truths about God. Because that is not trivial, that is important, and yet it is denied, as I say, but several schools of modern and post-modern thought.


Well thank you very much for the discussion this evening. [17]

  • [1]


  • [2]

    John 18:33-38

  • [3]

    Aristotle, Metaphysics 1011b25

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  • [5]


  • [6]


  • [7]


  • [8]

    See Roland Barthes’ essay titled “Death of the Author”

  • [9]


  • [10]

    Alvin Plantinga, The Twin Pillars of Christian Scholarship (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Calvin College and Seminary, 1990), pp. 21-22.

  • [11]


  • [12]

    cf. Matthew 5:43-44

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  • [14]


  • [15]

    Stuart C. Hackett, Oriental Philosophy: A Westerner’s Guide to Eastern Thought (University of Wisconsin Press, 1979).

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  • [17]

    Total Running Time: 55:23 (Copyright 2013 © William Lane Craig)