Ask Augustine: What Is Truth?

Paul Tambrino, EdD, PhD

Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino


Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.

Question #3 – What Is Truth?

Most people, and even a recent German research study, conclude that truth is subjective; and the only reason people like you object is because subjective truths interfere with your communal belief.

And since most communal (religious) beliefs (such as belief in the divine, etc.) cannot be verified, they cannot be true. How do you answer that?

Yes, the definition of Truth has been changed, and it has been changed for the sole purpose of effecting everything else.

Secular humanism has always been interested in changing a number of things, and changing “truth” has been their number one target.

This is because the antithesis of truth is not just error, it is but a lie or deception.

A popular education textbook of the last 30 years of the last century, by Postman and Weingartner, states that education is to help children learn a new set of beliefs and values.

“Secular humanism has always been interested in changing a number of things, and changing “truth” has been their number one target.”

They say there are certain things education needs to get rid of: such as the concept of absolute, fixed, unchanging truth; the concept of certainty; and the concept that knowledge emanates from a higher power.

How successful have they been? Well if we define a fact as only that which can be verified, their mission has been accomplished.

But that is not what a fact is at all. If you go to an older dictionary (one published before 1960) you’d find “a fact” defined as, “a thing done, an act accomplished. It is an event, the quality of being actual.”

Now not all facts can be verified, but they are still facts. For example, around 500 A.D., if a person said the earth was round she or he would be stating a fact, yet it was entirely beyond the capacity of being fully scientifically verified for another 1000 years.

It did not become a fact when it was verified, it had always been a fact; and therefore TRUE.  You see, a truth will be true even if no-one believes it.

John Dewey, the leader of the progressive movement in education said that truth must be related to fact, and thus if it is not verified it is nothing but prejudice. “If fact and truth are only that which can be verified, there can be no absolute truth.”

So truth (and thus fact) was first redefined in the 1960’s, “as that which can be scientifically verified.”

But can that statement, that truth and fact is only that which can be scientifically verified be itself verified? Absolutely not.

But does it make a difference? You bet it does. If fact and truth are only that which can be verified, there can be no absolute truth.

If there is no absolute truth, truth is not singular but multiple; truth becomes subjective (as you state in your question) and not objective.

So truth becomes mutable or changeable. Therefore, one can conclude there is no God, no eternal life, no heaven, no hell, etc., because such are not scientifically verifiable.

Realizing these problems (but not disagreeing with the desired goals of the first re-definition of truth) a German University two year study recently gave us a second (since the 1960’s) revised definition of truth.

These “scholarly” researchers concluded that truth can only be based on one’s own experience and thus truth is totally based on the individual and subjective.

“The problem with humanistic educators changing definitions of truth, is that it results in an offering of doubt and uncertainty — a grey world of unsureness.”

Again what nonsense! They are saying (which they do), that you can have your truth and I can have my truth.

If that is now the definition of truth, then we have as many truths as there are individuals (so truth is not singular and absolute).

As individuals may change their minds, truth becomes mutable. (To their credit, at least the researchers recognized their “new” definition of truth is subjective and not objective.)

The problem with humanistic educators changing definitions of truth, is that it results in an offering of doubt and uncertainty — a grey world of unsureness.

Yet, I (and I pray you) know that far above man’s poor search for truth there has been God’s revelation of absolute truth.

Truth is conformity with reality, and God is the greatest reality in the universe.

Truth is harmony with the facts, and the fact of the resurrection of Jesus is the greatest and best attested fact in history.

The God who made us can make Himself known to us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit He can break through our darkness and ignorance and cause us to know these things are absolutely true. “Truth is conformity with reality, and God is the greatest reality in the universe.”

If we are concerned for truth we must stick with it, even against the current cultural tide.

Acceptance of the objectivity of truth precludes relativism and pluralism. The unbelieving secular humanist cannot understand (nor stand) all this, and like Pilate can only cynically sneer, “What is truth? No man can know the truth.”

To which comes the eternal reply of Jesus, “I AM the way, the TRUTH, and the life. . . You shall know the TRUTH and the TRUTH shall make you free.” (Jn. 14:6, Jn. 8:32)

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Image Credit

River Landscape with Riders, c. 1653 – 1657 by Aelbert Cuyp. The Rijksmuseum. SK-A-4118.

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