Truth: Word-Switching (Part 1)

Submitted by James on Fri, 04/11/2008 - 04:23
When my friends refer to their belief that truth is relative to the mind, one of the most common phrases I hear is “It’s true to you,” or “It’s not true to me.” For example, when talking about God, one of them would say, “Well, God is true to you, but not to an atheist. And Jesus might be the Son of God to you, but not to a Muslim.” I’ve been thinking about this phrase, “Truth to him.” It sounds so convincing; every good bad argument does. But I would suggest to you that this phrase has undergone profound word-switching. Two of these three words have substituted for something else, namely, truth and to.
Truth, or Opinion?
I would suggest to you that the word truth in the phrase “Truth to him” has replaced the word opinion. Think about it. How long ago did dinosaurs live? Most would say millions of years ago. Some would say only a few thousand. Well, we can have our opinions all we want, but there is only one reality. If they lived millions of years ago, then those who say they lived only thousands of years ago are wrong, no matter how “true” it is to them, and vice versa. Who did Abraham almost sacrifice on Mt. Moriah? Was it Isaac, or Ishmael? If you say “Isaac is true to Jews and Christians, and Ishmael is true to Muslims,” you have a problem. One (or possibly both) of these truths are wrong, no matter how strongly it’s believed. And truth, by definition, can’t be wrong. If you think it can, then you’ve changed the definition of truth – that truth can be an idea, either right or wrong. I would submit to you that you don’t need to define truth that way, because we already have a word with such a definition; it’s the word opinion. Truth is a description of reality; opinion is what one thinks about reality, which may or may not be accurate.
Prepositional Absurdity
The other word that has replaced another is the word to. It has replaced the word of. Suppose two blind men knock on my door. One of them thinks I am kind and generous and will open my door; the other doesn’t; in fact, he is sure I will pretend to open the door but really leave it closed so he’ll walk into it and bonk his nose. So I open my door to them, and invite them in. The first blind man thinks I’ve opened the door (which I have), the second thinks it’s a trick. However, the door is open to both of them. It is true that I’ve opened the door to them; therefore, it is true to both of them, even though one of them believes strongly that it isn’t true! However, he has an opinion, and his opinion belongs to him. That is, it is of him. His belief that I’ve kept the door closed isn’t “true to him,” it’s “an opinion of him,” or less awkwardly, it’s “his opinion.”
Why the word of and not the word to? Because to suggests interaction. The truth, that is reality, is the situation we face whether we realize it or not. If the situation is that God created the world, and he created people to interact a certain way when it comes to love, marriage and families, then that reality is true to us whether we acknowledge it or not. If God has given us answers in His Word (the Bible) about who he is and how we relate to him, then those answers are “true to us” whether we agree or whether we decide to find our answers elsewhere. Therefore, the phrase, “truth to him,” should not be used synonymously with “his opinion,” because the truth is independent of our thoughts and the truth’s implications apply to everyone equally.
My conclusion
Just from my own observations, belief in relative truth seems to depend heavily on arguments that are semantically flawed. First, the difference between truth and opinion has been confused because one word is used when, really, the other should be used. Then, the function of truth (that is, that it is objective and applies to everyone alike) is confused because the word to is used instead of the word of. But as I said, these are the thoughts I have about the matter from my own observations; there could be more to this. I would gladly welcome others' thoughts and discussions!
Author's age when written


Straight to the point.

We are waiting for the long-promised invasion.
So are the fishes. ~ Winston Churchill

Ha ha! Yes! Couldn't have baloomen well said it better m'self. Wot wot!

We are waiting for the long-promised invasion.
So are the fishes. ~ Winston Churchill

Hmm... I think that you've shown once again who is the true brains of the 'Dunn outfit'.

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

James, this whole series has so far been very impressive. Every heard of Worldview Academy, a Christian Leadership camp? This sounds like what I learned at one of their camps last summer, only they had to condense it due to time. I like it!
Whatever you are, be a good one-Abe Lincoln

And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

James, I completely agree with you. Very well put. It seems to me that your friends (and mine) have not said the word "truth" by accident when really they meant to say "opinion." It seems rather that their experience of the world has changed how they understand words. If they see the world as without inherent meaning, then words no longer mean anything absolutely either.

So how can we reach our friends if even our words mean something different to them? It seems as though on a practical level there must be some further step we must take beyond merely pushing their noses against what they "should" already see.

True (there is only one absolute truth), but what gets sticky with your argument is this: humans are fallible (I believe that might be an absolute truth, lol). Because humans are fallible, we can never know the absolute truth for many things - only God can (insomuch as one is not an atheist). And (I know this is controversial) many believe that since the Bible (or other religious documents that report the word of God) is written by humans, it is also fallible and only as error-free (i.e., reporting the absolute truth) as much as can be done by humans.
So if we can never know the absolute truth, then who's to say who's opinion of what is the truth is the "correct", or absolute, truth? Only God knows, and unless you believe that the pope has a direct line to God, it's a bit hard for us fallible humans to figure out what the truth is.
I haven't read your other essays, I'll do so now, you probably address this elsewhere. You write very persuasively, nice writing style.

I worry that I spoke a little too categorically in my last comment. My main point (and probably I will fail again in really making it) was to notice a connection between an idea and the way we speak, act, make, create, work, live, etc.... In this case, I was struck that if you look closely at the words being chosen in such an argument you might find a pattern in speech (one that involves word-switching as you say, James). I somehow find it difficult to get involved when an arguments is only in cerebral, but when I have something definite to look at and compare--then my interest is peaked. For example, Pop Art and its relation to modernity.

Christa, it seems to me that you are not taking account of how large the leap must be between not being sure about something and not knowing anything about it. Also, it strikes me that you are speaking from a Cartesian understanding of the world and history: a philosophy unlike all others because it claimed absolutely to encompass and replace what came before it.

You are likely right Ben.
I would like to point out that, although Descartes had his points, I more encompass the epistemology/Plato point of view: what we know is a combination of what is truth and what we believe. In other words, I like thinking about *finding* truth - and a discussion of people's opinions of truth is interesting to me. :)

It seems to me that the purpose of this collection of essays is to define truth, so as to have a basis from which to discuss and find it.

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

I'm sorry James, I'm being that completely irritating person that posts a bunch without thinking first. I just wanted to say I read your other essays, I should have read all of them before posting first. They're a fun bunch of essays to read, and Ezra's right that I was missing the point.

But because I've enjoyed reading your writing, I want to hear you take it a step further. You've convinced us that: truth exists, truth is absolute, and "relative truth" should be renamed something akin to opinions or perhaps beliefs.

But what then? What of people who believe that their version of the world (opinions, whatever) is an absolute truth, when it is counter to what other people believe the truth to be, or perhaps counter to what the absolute truth of the world is? Does it matter? Should one do anything about it? How do you define absolute truth when the truth is sometimes hard to find?

Thanks for the discussion, folks! Sorry for not replying until now, I’ve been offline for three days. Heather: Yes, I am somewhat familiar with Worldview Academy, although I’ve never been there. Ben: Indeed, yes! How can one have a practical conversation with others who have a different understanding of what certain words (like truth) mean? The best thing I can think of is to simply be up-front and explain how and why I’m defining my words. Do you have some further thoughts on it?
Christa: You’ve raised an excellent point. Even if there is absolute truth, how can we know it? Saying “Because God tells us what the truth is” would only be begging the question. There are a lot of contradicting claims over what ways God has chosen to communicate to us – which one (if any) of them is right? I’m sure most of us could agree that God establishes and communicates to us the truth, but if we don’t know which message claiming to be God’s Word is the actual real one, how can we know what the truth is? It is indeed a sticky problem, though I believe there is a solution nonetheless.
About the view that the Bible is only as error-free as human authors could make it, you’re right: it is controversial. It’s where C.S. Lewis and I would sharply part company. I have a lot I’d like to say about it, but I’m going to save it for a future essay.
Ezra: Yes, these essays about Truth largely began by “defining” truth, or explaining its relationship to reality, if you will. But there are other aspects that need to be covered, especially the ones Christa raised.

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

I just saw your last comment right after I posted my last one -- we must have been posting about the same time and passed eachother in cyberspace! Don't appologize for anything; I greatly apreciate your input. I don't think you missed the point of my essays, you simply had other points in your mind that I hadn't been addressing -- very good points might I add. They are well taken, and I believe I will follow your suggestion to address them in further essays. I think I've got at least one more to write about truth being absolute; I will then try pursuing your suggestion.

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

Here's another question, although it may be on a slightly different wavelength (I just thought of it this morning). And, by the way, I can see how your previous questions were coming from a more ancient understanding of truth and belief, Christa. Descartes has been on my mind lately, and when that happens I start to see him popping up everywhere!

This leads to my question in a strange sort of way. If a person decides to doubt almost everything, does that place almost everything in the realm of belief? Doubt seems to me the natural (and ever-present) companion of belief, so it would seem that anything we doubt must also be something we must believe in before we can know it. However, this bothers me because I would like to be able to say that there are two realms: things we know and things we believe. The two realms seem to disappear as soon as a 'doubter' like Descartes starts doubting everything. Suddenly everything must be believed in, and this seems like a very different response to the world around us. My answer to my own question would be "No." Doubt does not create belief. Just because something is doubted does not mean it is no longer knowable. What do you think?

It may take me a while to get to the issue of how you can know what the truth is. I mean, it's pretty easy to demonstrate what truth is (that is, that truth is absolute, because it is a description of reality), but demonstrating what is truth adds a whole new demension.
The transition between these topics may be gradually spread over several essays. But I will try to get there.

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

I was having so much fun. Reading your debates about truth is miles about my English class college versus middle school. You sharpen my mind after mush of public school.
The Word is alive/and it cuts like a sword through the darkness
With a message of life to the hopeless/and afraid...

~"The Word is Alive' by Casting Crowns

May my words be a light that guides others to the True Light and Word.

Formerly Kestrel