Introductions

Truth: Objective or Relative?

When it comes to truth, it seems the most popular theory within the public square  is relativism, which says that truth is relative to the individual making the claim and that there is no objective truth which applies to everyone. I have had many conversations at work where the conversation abruptly ends with the comment: “well, that’s true for you.” This is a non-starter for this type of conversation. Ironically, if we apply relative truth claims to the world around us, it becomes clear that it is unlivable. For example, while crossing a street, it is either true or false that a car is coming towards me. What I believe about the car is quite irrelevant. Some relativists would agree with this claim, seeing that being run over by a car will easily defeat my belief that there is no car present.

When thinking about truth claims, it’s helpful to remember that it’s possible for a statement to refute itself. This means that in order for the statement to be true, it must be false. For example, the statement “No sentences have five words” refutes itself. What’s wrong with this statement? It has five words. But since the statement is a universal exclusive, it rules out all sentences, including itself, and consequently has refuted itself. Here is another example of a self-refuting statement: “This statement is false.” If the statement is true, then it is false by its own definition. But if it’s false, then it’s not false, because it claims to be so (it’s the equivalent of a double negative). This is quite nonsensical and unintelligible.

According to the law of non-contradiction, a statement and its negation can’t both be true at the same time and in the same sense. Interestingly, if this law of logic is applied to the statement a relativist makes about truth: “Truth is relative,” it becomes apparent that this is a violation of the law. This is an objective statement about the nature of truth. Therefore, the statement: “Truth is not relative” cannot be true at the same time that the statement “Truth is relative” is true. If there’s no objective truth, then this statement does not apply. If it does not apply, then we don’t need to listen to it. If it does apply to everyone, then it is an objective statement, which it claims does not exist! So, it’s the same thing as the false statement mentioned earlier, and is just as unintelligible.

Another option regarding truth is to say it is objective, or that some truths apply all of the time, and in all circumstances. This claim does not have the same problem as the previous claim: namely, it does not refute itself. It also doesn’t violate the law of non-contradiction. But does it have better arguments in its favor?

Every day, we live with a belief in objective claims. Life would be unlivable without them: a red traffic light means to stop. If everyone suddenly decided that this was just an arbitrary, relative claim, traffic accidents would occur at numerous intersections. While this isn’t a conclusive argument, it’s a decent start.

Another good argument for the objective nature of truth is the discipline of science. Mathematicians discover objective formulas frequently. Imagine a scientist in a lab having to re-work the equations he came up with yesterday, just to be certain they still applied. He could never apply a proven formula to a new situation without re-working the entire formula. In fact, no one could demonstrate the objectivity of any formula or law.

One last argument for objectivity of truth is the self-evident proof. This is the same as a self-refuting truth claim, only in reverse. This statement can’t be denied without assuming it’s true while denying it. For example, if you call into a darkened room, “Anyone home?” and an answer responded “Nope, no one here!” you would have proof someone is there, even though the response said otherwise. The denial is now the confirmation someone is there. For the same logical reason, it becomes apparent that truth isn’t relative. You cannot claim it to be relative, and a denial that it is objective is proof of its objectivity. In the end, an understanding of truth as objective is both livable and logical. Because of this, truth cannot be relative to each individual.

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Apologetics and Stories

Stories are all around us: they are in the books we read, movies we watch, news we view, and the games we play. They permeate all of what we encounter. Turn on the TV and there is a commercial that sells us a story about the product. Watch kids play and they construct a make-believe world of house, dragon slaying, tea parties, or adventuring.

We are shaped by our stories. After the movie Jaws was released people were afraid of going to the beach. Even today the musical theme is recognized by many. People still think that archeology is done with people wearing fedoras carrying bull whips. Even I, after unwisely watching Steven King’s IT, became afraid of clowns. Still today, I find clowns creepy… but that’s another story.

We are also not careful with our stories. Steve Allan (one of the first hosts of the tonight show) lamented in his book ‘Dumbth’ that people wrote TV characters asking for advice. That’s right… not the actors or actresses but the characters themselves!  There is a distinction between fantasy and reality and, while the border is fuzzy sometimes like in documentaries and the news, we still need to be careful in what we take in.

But stories are not inherently bad. Jesus used stories to explain his points, as do many other religious leaders. Some stories tell us what not to do while some show us the consequences of good actions. We learn, for example, when we play games such as the cooperative game Pandemic: all players must work together and the world can be saved; or in stories such as in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies show that there is evil and it is here to destroy and stopping it comes at a great personal cost.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” It is wise to be cautious about how stories affect us. [1]

Understanding the power of stories can help the learning of truth as well as having the ability to demolish the philosophical parts of stories that set itself against God.

What are some of your favorite stories and why?

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[1] McKay, Brett & Kate. 2015. “Beware the too Compelling Narrative.” The Art of Manliness. http://www.artofmanliness.com

Fight the Culture or Make the Culture?

One can’t help but be overwhelmed by the plethora of arguments and special areas of focus when it comes to apologetics. As Chris pointed out in an earlier post, it helps to categorize the different schools of apologetics so that one may best understand what approach works best for them or their target audience. Every apologist will eventually find their niche and work from their strengths, but there is one particular area of apologetics that is often neglected which all apologists should know and work from because it pervades every aspect of their life: cultural apologetics.

Culture surrounds and pervades every aspect of our being. It is one of those things that we cannot escape if we are functioning humans. In fact, I’ll argue in the future that one of the primary reasons humanity was created by God was to create and participate in culture. Such a pervasive aspect of our being should demand attention from theologians, philosophers, and apologists. A skeptic may dismiss the importance of a rigorous theology or philosophy, but none should deny that culture shapes and influences.

However, for being so pervasive to our being cultural apologetics does not fit easily into any of the the traditional categories of apologetics – classical, evidential, and presuppositional – because it is not so much focused on particular arguments or evidences but on the state of the culture as it stands or could stand. Primarily it is concerned with examining culture and answering the questions that are implicit within the cultural goods that are being created. The cultural apologist rightly assumes that how we perceive the world is shaped by the culture in which we immerse ourselves and that culture is inescapable. Our worldview will be altered by what entertains, informs, or provokes.

Accordingly, cultural apologetics has a tendency to be focused on worldview analysis because the logical outcomes of beliefs are often expressed within culture. But this isn’t enough. Analysis, by itself, is ultimately destructive. It does not refine or reshape. Seeing what constitutes a particular belief in no way leads to positive cultural influence. The cultural apologist is thus tasked with something more: he must analyze and offer a positive cultural good as well.

Our exploration of cultural apologetics will thus take a rather long route to the end. We’ll first explore the formation of Western culture throughout antiquity and the middle ages and its slow decline over the last 500 years. We will then move into a proper theology and philosophy of culture and an extended defense of the true, the good, and the beautiful as the standards for cultural creation. Finally, we’ll examine a series of proposals for how we can fundamentally alter the culture and create positive cultural goods.

The goal of all of this is not to offer anything new or novel. In fact, I intend to do the exact opposite by attempting to ground everything that we examine in light of the historic beliefs and traditions of the church. The cultural apologist is not attempting to reform in the culture in the sense of progressing into “better” things but, as G.K. Chesterton noted, returning the culture to the original form that was intended for it at creation. Ultimately, we are not at war with the culture. We exist within the culture and contribute to it daily. Rather, we are seeking to win the culture by creating the culture.

What’s in a Name? Metaphysics Introduced

Metaphysics is a difficult branch of philosophy to nail down. It has its own vocabulary, so we will need to define a lot of terms throughout the blogs on this topic. For example, we will explore the topics of ontology (deals with the nature of being, reality, and what a thing is), cosmology (the beginning of all that is), and some subtopics like time, personal identity, and the distinction between the mental and the physical (also can be understood as the distinction between the soul and the body).

Each of the topics mentioned could (and will) be a blog in themselves. Suffice it to say, there are numerous different theories for each of these topics. For example, whether the physical world actually exists is a question which seeks to be answered by this branch of philosophy. There are those who think that the cosmos is a mere illusion, a projection of their own minds (solipsism). Others believe the cosmos is an idea within the mind of God (idealism). These theories need to be explored in further detail and compared against a Biblical worldview. If they don’t conflict, then we’re free to choose the theory we believe to be most persuasive. But, on a Christian point of view, not all theories are equal.

As we further explore these topics, it will become more obvious why it’s essential that the Christian think through them. If you don’t understand what the essence (the nature of a thing that is intrinsic and makes it what it is [ie dogness]) of a thing is, or how to draw distinctions between different essences, then the Trinity can never make sense. Without an understanding of continued personal identity, the Resurrection can’t make sense. Without an understanding of the mental and its implications, the possibility of an afterlife is nonsense. It becomes apparent, then, that metaphysics is a vastly important branch of philosophy. It is ignored to the peril of the one who ignores it.

What is Bioethics?

Bioethics is an important field, dealing with many different topics. It is a broad umbrella under which ethical implications of certain biological technologies, such as stem cell research, genetic enhancement, and artificial wombs fall. It also includes the topics of abortion and eugenics.

Since the Apologers approach this topic from an apologetic perspective, the topics we cover will not only discuss certain topics/technologies but will attempt to navigate the ethical implications which they involve. This may become nebulous and murky in places. However, we believe it possible to navigate these areas. In some cases, a technology is not wrong, per se, but rather, it damages the one using it. We will attempt to point out these differences when possible. Notice the difference between these two: a three-parent child and smartphone use (while not a bioethical issue, this is an interesting question of technology that affects a massive portion of the population and suits my simple intention). One means of creating a three-parent child is to destroy a perfectly healthy embryo in order to harvest the genetic material outside the nucleus. Since we believe that a person starts at birth, this would be a wrong practice. However, a technology which could be damaging to the one using it but not necessarily wrong, can be seen in current smartphone use, which keeps a person online 24/7. This functions as an external memory for the one using it, which causes the individual to lose mental capacity. It is therefore not wrong, but may be harmful.

In the end, these are both examples of how bioethical issues will be navigated within our blogs. Certain bioethics practices are simply wrong and unethical. However, most of them end up being somewhere in a gray area. In these instances, it’s helpful to think through the affects they’re having, and make decisions based on that.