“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, March 17, 2008

Logic, Reality, and Absolute Truth

I saw an interesting and amusing video on youtube a few days ago. Check it out:

In this video Ravi Zacharias describes the law of non-contradiction and the contrast between the “either/or” system and the “both/and” system. The essential point is that although some things may be described in “both/and” terms, we cannot live with sanity without depending on an underlying logical “either/or” system. Ravi Zacharias describes the “either/or” system as virtually the same as the law of non-contradiction, which says that two logically contradictory things cannot both be true (unless they are qualified so that they are not really contradictory anymore). Thus, abandonment of an underlying “either/or” way of thinking is really an abandonment of logic itself, and thus a rejection of logical and rational thought. Now that would be ridiculous.

It does not follow from this that we can never think of things in “both/and” terms. It just means we can’t reasonably think of logically contradictory things in those terms. However, we can and should think of, for example, heart and mind in “both/and” terms. Our rational thought and our emotions are both important in life, and being influenced by both is not logically contradictory. Similarly, it is not logically contradictory for Jesus Christ to be both God and a man, or for the Trinity to be three persons in one sense and one being in another. “Both/and” thinking is often a wise way of thinking.

Now, some people try to abuse language to make it seem like the “both/and” system shows the “either/or” system to be incorrect. For example, someone might say that the world is both big and not big. Now, if he means the same thing by the word “big” both times, he is making and illogical statement. Most likely he means the world is big in one sense, or compared to smaller things, and not big in another sense, or when compared to bigger things. By using the same word to convey different ideas, he is making a sneaky but hopeless assault on the law of non-contradiction. This kind of language is deceptive. Language has the power to convey truth and to mislead us when it is used poorly.

In the end, the “either/or” system, meaning essentially a logical description of reality, is necessary, accurate, and foundational to reality. Those who argue against this way of thinking either make confusing claims with misleading language, or they simply abandon logic itself.

Some might say that absolute truth may exist, but is less important than our immediate comfort. But no matter how much utilitarian benefit one might derive from holding a false belief, it is still false - a delusion. Truth! To base your life on a falsehood when there is truth out there is folly.

A significant case in which these ridiculous claims are made is in saying that logically contradictory religions or worldviews can both be true in a sense. Well, either they are true in different senses such that they are not really logically contradictory, or an illogical statement has been made. Logic implies absolute truth, and if one worldview is absolutely true, every logically contradictory belief system is false. As Ravi Zacharias says, "truth by definition is exclusive." Jesus understood this when he made the exclusive claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It is either Christianity or not Christianity. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

Logic is not merely a human concept. It is a tool used by humans to describe reality, but the important point is that it does in fact accurately describe reality. Logic is the way reality works, and thus there is absolute truth independent of our state of knowledge. There is a real world out there independent of what we may believe. We perceive a reality that goes beyond and is distinct from our mere perceptions. What is true and real is a separate issue from what we think or perceive or believe to be true or real.

Although our perceptions and thoughts are distinct from reality, we can approach a limited but real knowledge of what is absolutely true. There are some things that we may not be able to say are true without some level of probabilistic uncertainty; nevertheless we can attain knowledge without demanding proof. Knowledge does not require proof. In short, although there are few things we can know with 100% certainty, there are many many things we can know to be true with a high level of probability. Finally and most importantly, the fact that there really is some absolute truth out there should greatly inspire us to know truth. Perhaps if we look hard enough, we will find that "the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

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