I was listening to an atheist the other day. He was speaking about absolute truth and relative one.
He said that there is no an absolute truth and he put an example as follows: If I say today is Sunday it is truth but if I say the same tomorrow it will be a lie. I sense there is a mistake in his logical but I couldn´t see it and It keeps me thinking.
Is there a false logic in his argument?
Thanks for your help
Yes, there is faulty logic at the core of this argument, because it’s a self refuting statement. For example, the statement,
“There is no absolute truth.”
Is that statement absolutely true? If someone claims this statement is absolutely true, then that would mean that there is something that is absolutely true, which would refute the statement itself.
William Lane Craig discusses this topic in the below YouTube video and gives some suggestions on how to engage a person who would make a similar claim.
Relativism Refutes Itself
Now I understand
The video was also helpful
Even in his statement, tmoro will always be tmoro and today will always be today. Does the name of the day change? Sure that’s because we named it differently. Not because it is a day that is truly different. Sunday, Monday are the same as Tuesday. It is just an arbitrary naming that humans use to help us organize the days. But the fact that it is today and tmoro is tmoro will not change, aka absolute truth.
I hope this helps @carlosvacaortiz.
This days and dates are universal constant information agreed at a point of time in the History. This example is not a logic one.
@carlosvacaortiz Aside from the self-defeating nature of the proposition itself as shown by @joncarp, the fact that saying, “Today is Sunday,” on Sunday is true and saying the same on Monday is false shows that there is absolute truth! Therefore, your friend’s illustration proves the opposite of what he claims.
By the way, this provides an interesting opportunity to talk about what a lie is. I am writing this post on Tuesday. If I say, “Today is Sunday,” am I lying? Maybe. What if I truly believe that it is Sunday even though it is not? Am I lying? No! I am deceived; I am stating a falsehood; I am to be pitied in my delusional state. I am not lying, because I truly believe what I stated! A liar states what he knows to be false. That is why we must be very careful as Christians both to check our facts to make sure that we believe in the truth, and to be very careful not to accuse others of lying until we have ascertained the facts of the case. If we do not do these things, we risk bearing false witness against whoever we call liars!
Hi @blbossard Brendan,
Indeed I’m learning from people in this community. I like the way you brake the phrase apart and how you see a great lesson (to look inside of the person to see what the deviation could be)
It’s hard at the beginning when you are in the conversation and bring all this up to the table in the right time. It pushes me to keep improving.
Thanks a lot for your time
@carlosvacaortiz You are welcome. I am glad that I was able to help. Please feel free to do the same for me whenever the opportunity arises. I need all the help that I can get!
This is really good. Thank you for the contrast between lie and deception. I feel like this is an important distinction that needs to be made when discussing topics like this in today’s culture. I will be using this in future conversations
i am thankful for the response here, very helpful
@rebeccalynnhernandez Thank you, and welcome aboard!
@rebeccalynnhernandez Welcome to the Connect community! I am looking forward to your questions and your contributions. I hope this site will be a blessing for you.
Grace and peace to you,
I have limited experience discussing absolute -vs- relative truth, but if I were to summarize statements I’ve heard there’s generally two: “There’s no such thing as absolute truth.” or “What’s true for you may not be true for me.” The “true for you but not for me” argument sometimes gets the “as long as I don’t hurt others” phrase added on too.
As others have pointed out it’s fairly easy to refute the logical argument: asking “Is that statement absolutely true” or applying the law of non-contradiction (Sunday cannot also be Monday). But, that’s only half of the argument. This approach points out the logical errors in the thinking but not the reason why the person came to those conclusions in the first place which is, I think, more important.
I’d try to keep the conversation going by asking questions about how the person came to believe in relative truth (and rejected absolute truth - you can’t take both sides). For example, What were their experiences that caused them to conclude there’s no such thing as absolute truth? Was there a time they believed in absolute truth? Can they give examples of how relative truth is applied in their lives? You could also try posing a few questions that challenge the relative truth concepts: Is stealing ok for some but not others? If it is true for me that I should stop at traffic lights that are red, can that also not be true for others?
These questions will force your conversation deeper but are geared towards trying to understand the person’s world view. Asking personal questions, and having a listening ear - make sure you understand their point of view before trying to challenge it - may help you gain the person’s trust and respect. That can go a long way in keeping the conversation going. But also, it may help them flush out their own thinking (and yours too!). Living a life based on relative truth isn’t as logically simple as it initially seems. Again, in my limited experience, I often find those holding the relative truth position haven’t thought it through to the point of the “logical outcome” (as Ravi likes to say) of that position.
But more importantly I think is to try to get at the questions of what would change in their life if absolute truth existed? Would they have to do things differently? What should happen when someone violates an absolute truth? Who should be accountable, and to whom should they be accountable? Clearly societies all over the world believe in absolute truths in some form or anther. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be court systems and laws and prisons. So what about that?
At the heart of relative truth claims is the concept of morality. Where do we get our sense of right and wrong, if there is one at all. Why do good, if there is no moral code? I can see the attractiveness of living a life where morals are relative. “As long as I’m not hurting others”, I’m free to do just about whatever I want to do. See if you can get them to agree that the relative truth position isn’t fool proof. Maybe they can see some problems with that point of view? Maybe not.
These are deep topics, with no simple answers. Relative truth and absolute truth both have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on one’s world view. If you take some time to invest in the person, and seek to understand their point of view, you’ll be going a long way in loving them - even if you disagree - and that opens the door for discussing the gospel.
Finally, Ravi Zacharias has a good series on relative -vs- absolute truth called “Absolute Truth in Relative Terms”. You can find some of that here:
I really appreciate your time to help me with this subject.
I agree with your comments. I was reading some more about this subject. I found this analogy from C.S Lewis that brings out the moral heart of the truth and how the way you act with it in the social environment (where everyone is at):
C. S. Lewis said, "A ship at sea must answer 3 important questions.
How to avoid sinking (A matter of Personal ethics).
How not to bump into other ships (A matter of Social ethics).
And more importantly;
3. Why it is at sea in the first place (Normative ethics)."
If you see the truth as relative I think you will be in a position I say boat alone, an absolute truth guides you in a sea with others and how to grow together
Thanks Mike also for your help in how to continuing the conversation and make it more personal and inner growing for both parts.
Have a good day!!
Your reaponse @Danageze, brings to mind the eighteenth century, Scottish philosopher and Presbyterian minister, Thomas Reid’s theory of Natural and Artifical Signs.
According to Reid, our brains are fitted by nature to interact with the external world through sensations which act as natural signs of our experience. For example, when I put my hand on a table, I have a sensation of hardness. The sensation is the natural sign. It is an absolute. Hardness is not softness. There is nothing arbitrary or relative about the sensation. However, the word hardness is an artificial sign and is arbitrary. I could use the french word dureté to signify the same sensation that the English word hardness calls to mind in another person who has experienced hardness.
In the same way, our minds are equipped by nature to experience the passage of time. We see the sun rise in the morning and move through the sky to set at night and we expect the same thing to happen tomorrow. The words that we use to signify the passage of time are relative but what the experience they signify is absolute. We know that today signifies a different experience than yesterday and our anticipation of tomorrow.
To organize our experience of time we use artificial and, again arbitrary, signs like monday, tuesday, etc… We might be mistaken about the day of the week but the calendar we refer to is a recognized standard that doesn’t change. It is absolute.
We cannot function in the world if we do not organize our sensations in a manner that makes sense to us and to those who interact with us. We assume someone will understand what we mean when we say “see you tomorrow.” And if today is Sunday, we know that tomorrow will be Monday.
When you say “I sense there is an error in his logic” you are absolutely correct. Your sensation of time and your sensation of true and lie do not compute this statement:
Stick to your natural sense and rid yourself of nonsense like this fellow’s self-refuting fallacy.
Well explained @John2.
I gave a try at answering part of your question in a post below. But I continue to be curious about the name for the fallacy or fault in his logic. There is a superb article on Logic in the online Encyclopedia Britannica which I have referred back to for many years in my attempt to understand logic and logical fallacies. It seems to me that this particular example you provide falls under Verbal Fallacies. In particular, this would be a Definitional Fallacy or Fallacy of Definition because the speaker is improperly understanding relative. His example obscures the idea of the difference between absolute and relative truth.
Relativism is quite often misunderstood both by those who have bought into the idea and those who oppose it. It began with the French existentialist Jacques Derrida. I enjoy listening to lectures by people who are sympathetic to an author as opposed to listening to those who oppose because it often seems to me that a straw man argument is used by the critic of a position in order to refute the idea quickly. Rick Roderick who was a professor at Duke University in the '90’s has a good lecture on Jacques Derrida called “Derrida and the Ends of Man” (1993). He offers a corrective to misconceptions of relativism:
" Philosophers call someone a relativist, by which they mean it’s a person that holds that any view is as good as any other view. My simple response to that is this: that is a straw person argument. No-one in the world believes it or ever has believed it.
“No-one – Derrida or anyone else – believes that every view is as good as every other view. That’s only a view we discuss in freshman philosophy class in order to quickly refute it. I mean no-one believes it. There are no defenders of the view.”
The lecture is complex but it does help us to understand what Derrida meant originally. He was a deconstructionist, he attempted to break down what a word might be pointing to in order to find bedrock if there is any or the arbitrary pointing that I talked about in my earlier post.
What I find really fascinating about this lecture from Rick Roderick is what happens when Derrida wants to deconstruct the statement “The spirit possesses God in proportion as it participates in the absolute” referring to Anatola France who does some juggling to replace the words in the sentence with other words, he eventually comes down to his conclusion that “the phrase has acquired quite the ring of some fragment of a Vedic hymn, and smacks of ancient Oriental mythology.”
By that point in his analysis, the original statement looks ridiculous but if we think about what we believe, we believe in inspiration, in hymns, in prayers that are inspired by God; in short, we believe that the Bible is the word of God. And when it comes right down to it, Derrida doesn’t believe there is a God or that there is anything that has ever been inspired by God and neither does his audience believe that there is a God.
When we break down the statement “all scripture is God-breathed”, we believe that God is there, and that He is Not Silent as Francis Schaeffer puts it. We believe that we can get down to the bedrock of a statement and find that God has spoken to us and that we can understand what he has said. In fact, we believe that what he has said can be used by the Holy Spirit within us to transform us into new persons who are ever more like Jesus who is the one image of the invisible God. There is nothing ambiguous or relative about that.
Thanks for your question,
I’m thankful for your references. I can tell there are good information.
I also like to label the sentence as it is. Now, I know it’s a verbal fallacy.
Deconstruction led to postmodernism? or are part of the same?
Do they want to remove God from everything?
Some questions I bring after reading about this subject.
Sorry to change the trend
I am thankful that you are reading for context of the speaker’s comments you listened to recently. You are not changing the subject of the thread. Your initial question wanted to be able to label the exact fault in the logic of this individual. That logical syllogism though a logical fallacy, was part of a talk about Absolute versus Relative truth:
You are trying to understand what is meant by Relative truth and that is not an isolated concept in the history of ideas. I think your questions are on topic.
Deconstruction is a method of Literary Theory developed by Jacques Derrida which birthed post-modernism, yes.
God had been removed from western thinking long before Derrida. The train had left the station and we are seeing it clicking along at full steam in this speaker that you heard the other day.
But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that post-modernism has removed God from everything. They think that they have removed God but He is not so easily ignored.
According to Romans, ‘the wrath of God is revealed against all who suppress the truth because of their unrighteousness’ (Romans 1:18). The nature of God’s wrath is explained in verse 19 “because that which may be known of God is manifest in them.” If you don’t mind, Carlos, I would like to dip into the original language behind this english translation of Romans and offer the translation among them. The Greek particle ἐν (en) is better translated ‘among’ when the object is plural, in this case the plural pronoun αὐτοῖς (autois) or ‘them’. The picture here is not of unconnected individuals all of whom suppress the truth of God. It is more a picture of indivuals who can be seen as a group. They are trying to interact with one another as if God does not exist and this results in confusion. Paul calls their sexual relationships unclean (v24), characterized by vile affections (v26) and their relationships, in general as being filled with unrighteousness (v29).
Rick Roderick whom I refer to in an earlier post, calls the feeling ‘despair beyond despair.’
We are seeing the train of despair clicking along at full steam in post-modernism. But it is helpful to ask oursleves where it left the station. Perhaps that would make it easier to trace ‘that which may be known of God’ in post-modern despair.
To go back to the station, we need to go back to the birth of modernism which brings us back to the time of Rene Descartes (born 1596) and that infamous statement of his “I think, therefore, I am.” Thomas Reid referring to Descartes, jokes that ‘a man who doubts his own existence is no more to be trusted than a man who thinks he’s made of glass’ [An Inquiry into the Human Mind (1819)].
He is just being facetiious, however, he makes an insightful point, because Descartes really did get it wrong and he really did set a train rolling down the wrong track. He is the station that the post-modern train had left behind. To return to an earlier post, Descartes interpretted his sensations of God, the natural sign, wrongly and created what CS Lewis calls “Men Without Chests” (The Abolition of Man). Descartes ‘wonders how he can know for sure that he isn’t mad or whether his mind has been taken over by an evil genius’ [Paul Fry Theory of Literature (Yale University Press, 2012) btw this is a transcript of a Yale Open Course called “Introduction to the Theory of Literature”, here is a link to the first lecture. Binge watching these lectures would give you a very good grasp of the station and the train we are talking about]. Descartes answer to his own question is that “I think, therefore, all the things that I am thinking about can be understood to exist as well” (Ibid.). And that would include the ‘evil genius’ or what Carl Jung would later call the shadow self.
Before the time of Descartes, western thinkers assumed that ‘the evil genius’ and God were at work in the world simultaneously and in perpetual contest for the human mind. This is very biblical. We see this in the temptation of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. But post-modern man has adopted the position that all of these ideas are ‘nonsense.’ That happened at another stop along the way.
“The philosophers accused the scientific men of narrowness and the scientific men retorted that the philosophers were insane” (quoted in Daniel Robinson The Great Ideas of Philosophy from The Great Courses series, Lecture 40 “The Aesthetic Movement”).
It is important, Carlos, that we note this divorce in the history of ideas (Britain circa 19th century) because it will help us understand the ideas of Herbert Marcuse who is a secular critic of twentieth century society and a pop cultural figure for the hippy movement of the 1960’s. Marcuse catches a contradiction in modernity that is vital to understand, if we are going to understand why relativism leads to despair from the perspective of secular thinkers like Rick Roderick.
Modernity is characterized by ‘no nonsense’ thinking, rational decisions only, please and thank-you.
“when Kant says “Dare to use your own reason”, which already, you know, tells you that the church fathers and things like that aren’t… don’t listen to them, dare to use your own reason. Have the audacity to reason for yourself.” (Rick Roderick, “Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man”
What happens when everyone has the audacity to think for themselves as Descartes tells us he has decided to do? You get this situation described so well by Rick Roderick:
“The more we, as it were, cleared the fields of the traditional religious views, the more that we became convinced that science – and one term for that Marcuse uses is “Instrumental reason”; reason used as an instrument for changing nature and human beings – the more that the enlightenment project progressed, it simply turned out not to be the case that we became less afraid in the face of the unknown. No, the unknown appeared more terrifying than ever, and it wasn’t the case that we became less dogmatic, as a matter of fact, the sciences have now branched out into so many areas that the only way anyone could believe in any of them is dogmatically since none of us could study them because we don’t have world enough or time.”
Society in the modern world was so compartmentalized by this dogmatism that Derrida’s deconstruction project was a welcome relief from the chaos of modern thought. He proposed that we accept the situation as it is and simply adopt different views instead of dogmatically defending just one view. He uses a famous analogy of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We are used to looking at pictures of the Paris skyline with the Eiffel Tower off in the background. What does Paris look like when you are standing on the top of the tower itself. It looks totally different because the tower is not visible, you are standing from that vantage point.
Rick Rodderick illustrates the irrantionality that results from perfectly rational decision made by a society of individuals"
“Work is over, so it’s time to go home. It’s rational to want to go home after work … that’s the most rational thing we want all day; is to get away from work, its very rational. So, each individual actor’s decision to run out to their car and to get onto the freeway is rational. How about the outcome? Well the outcome is that everybody is sitting on the freeway breathing each other’s smoke and sitting on their butt. The outcome is irrational!”
This is the contradiction that Marcuse points out to the modern mind. Our rational process has led to irrantionality.
“This is at the heart of [Marcuse’s] criticism. It is not his criticism that our society should just throw away instrumental reason; should just give up on thinking scientifically, that’s not it at all. It’s that if we don’t find a more balanced approach to ourselves, our world, other people, than instrumental rationality we are lost.”
Post-modernism is searching for that balance and as Ravi so often says, its a hopeless pursuit. Our western world can only find hope by looking back at what they have left behind which is right there revealed inside of them, the suppressed knowledge of God’s eternal power and godhead.
Hopefully, this provides some context for your reading, Carlos.