5 / 06

#259 Is There Objective Truth?

March 31, 2012

Dr. Craig, life has become absurd to me. Having had conversation with several individuals in my school years have taught me that most do not think that there is such a thing as truth, rather the word is only a matter of opinion and therefore has not absolute meaning. At the end of my conversation it has been revealed to me that anything that is not a scientific fact is false, and that this thing truth is only a coping mechanism that human being have created to make it appear that life has meaning but in reality it has none. How do you as a Philosopher/Theologian deal with this? I am anxious for your response!


United States

Dr. craig’s response


Steven, your despair is wholly unnecessary and even misconceived. The individuals who told you that “There is no such thing as truth” are not clear thinkers or reliable guides. The position that they espouse is self-referentially incoherent, that is to say, it is literally self-refuting.

Just ask yourself the question: is the statement

1. There is no such thing as truth

true? If not, then no need to worry, right? On the other hand if (1) is true, then it follows that (1) is not true, since there is no truth. So if (1) is false, it’s false; and if (1) is true, it’s false. So either way (1) is false. The position that your friends espoused is just incoherent.

Please don’t dismiss this response as mere logic-chopping. The position your friends taught you is just self-refuting and silly.

Indeed, the rest of your letter reveals that you implicitly reject their self-defeating view, for you go on to affirm quite a number of alleged truths:

2. The word “truth” is only a matter of opinion and therefore has no absolute meaning.
3. Anything that is not a scientific fact is false.
4. Truth is only a coping mechanism that human beings have created.
5. Life really has no meaning.

If (1) is true, then (2) - (5) cannot be true. Now since (1) is self-defeating, you’ll have to abandon it and just assert the truth of (2) - (5).

But then the problem is that (1) was given as the justification for asserting (2) – (5). So if you give up (1), what warrant is there for (2) - (5)?

Indeed, (2) – (5) have self-referential problems of their own. Take (2). This statement is a real mess. Clearly the word “truth” is not a matter of opinion. The word “truth” is an English word with five letters. It doesn’t assert anything and so can’t be a matter of opinion. Similarly, what does it mean to say that “truth” has no absolute meaning? Clearly, this word has a meaning (look it up in any dictionary), as is evident from the fact that we are discussing it. If it has a meaning in English (unlike, say, “zliibckk”), I don’t know what is meant by saying that the meaning isn’t absolute. Of course, the meaning of “truth” is relative to the English language. It has no meaning in German, for example (as opposed to “Wahrheit”). Clearly, what is meant by (2) is something more like

2*. What is true is person-relative and only a matter of opinion.

“True for you,” as they say, “but not true for me.” But then the same self-referential problems arise again. If (2*) is true, then (2*) itself is just matter of opinion and is person-relative. But then it’s not objectively true that truth is only a matter of opinion. It’s just your opinion that truth is a matter of opinion, so who cares? The problem is that relativists want to assert that (2*) is objectively true; but in that case (2*) is false. So once more, it’s self-defeating.

Or take (3). (3) is not itself a scientific fact. There are no experiments you could conduct to prove it, nor will you find it asserted in any science textbook. It is a philosophical statement about the nature of facts. But it states that anything that is not a scientific fact is false. But then it follows that (3) itself is false! Wake up, Steven! How could you have been blind to these incoherencies?

What about (4)? Truth and falsehood are properties of statements. A statement S is true if and only if what S says is the case really is the case. For example, “Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white. Obviously, truth is not a coping mechanism, since coping mechanisms are not properties of statements. This is just muddled thinking. What is intended by (4) must be something like

4*. We think that S is true only because so thinking enables us to cope in life.

Now on the face of it (4*) strikes me as utterly implausible. Surely you can think of all sorts of statements you think are true quite independently of whether so thinking helps you to cope in life. Indeed, some of the things we think are true are positive impediments to our coping successfully with life! But let that pass. The more important thing is that if (4*) is true, then the only reason you believe (4*) is because it helps you to cope. In that case we might feel sorry for you, but we won’t be worried about the objectivity of truth as a result.

As for (5), that is a coherent and important assertion. I agree with you that if God does not exist, then (5) is true. But if He does, then (5) is false. So what evidence do you have to support your view? It’s going to be pretty tough for you to give any evidence for your view if you deny that truth is objective and can be objectively known!

The bottom line, Steven, is that it is a substantive claim to say that life is absurd, and these acquaintances of yours who have led you to embrace such a belief have deceived you through sophomoric arguments and self-refuting assertions. I urge you to shake off the stupor caused by such sophisms and come to think clearly about such matters!

- William Lane Craig